I’m a Christian and this is why I vote Liberal Democrat

Liberal Democrat rosetteToday’s guest post by John Innes. It is the fifth in a series where writers are asked to discuss the reasons for their own political views and how they tie with their Christian faith. The first four are I’m a Christian and this is why I vote Conservative, …why I vote Labour, …Why I vote Green and …Why I vote UKIP. The hope is that this series will facilitate an open conversation on how faith may be tied to differing political streams of thought. It builds on the findings of the recent Theos report that has analysed voting patterns of Christians, revealing some clear political divisions between some Christian groups.

John is of mixed Scottish, Irish, English and French ancestry.  He is the Treasurer for the Banbury Liberal Democrat Party, Treasurer for the Liberal International (British Group); and member of the Executive of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum.

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First, a few confessions: I have been interested in politics, particularly international politics from the age of 10.  Since then I have morphed from being a Ted Heath (or so-called ‘one-nation’) style Tory in my teenage years into a Labour supporter at university and almost joined the SDP in 1981.  I then worked abroad for international development organizations for 30 years.

I became a Christian when I was 18 years old whilst at university and since that age I have voted sequentially Conservative, Labour, Green, and Liberal Democrat at different local and national elections – frequently being unable to vote whilst abroad.   I have even voted Independent (for the Police & Crime Commissioner), as I am fundamentally against mixing up politics with policing. I am now a committed member of the Liberal Democrat party (despite its weaknesses) and (despite my failings) remain a committed Christian

My main reasons for being a member of the Liberal Democrat party are:

  • Freedom with responsibility:  We were all created to enjoy freedom (we only realise what freedom really means once it is removed from us!) and to exercise free-will, yet within God’s boundaries, which are actually established for our mutual benefit. This means that there is a constant tension between freedom (which can become libertarianism) and boundaries (which can become authoritarianism).  We as Liberal Democrats truly struggle to get this balance right for the benefit of society, as all the other parties do likewise, but it goes right to the soul of the Liberal Democrat party.
  • Growth with equity:  Fundamentally, we are all of equal value in the sight of God, and our God is the source of and lover of justice.   God loves the poor, but does not want any of us to remain poor.  To leave poverty we need environmentally responsible growth.  For equity, we need a government prepared to step in and promote the interests of the poor and disadvantaged, but not in a way that stifles growth and not beholden to special, and powerful, interests.   A commitment to fairness and equity permeates the policies of the Liberal Democrat party, but as in the first area, it is extremely difficult to get right on a consistent basis (sadly, God never promised us an easy life).
  • Environmental  commitment:  Climate change is real, but there are many other ways in which we abuse the environment as human beings.  To be honest, we often fail on environmental issues as Liberal Democrats as pressing issues of human poverty, the requirements of growth, or the next political expedient push environmental concerns to the margins.  All parties struggle in this regard though.
  • Unity amidst diversity:  Confessing that I am ashamed that we as Liberal Democrats do not have a single ethnic minority MP at present, and that women are heavily under-represented amongst our current cohort of MPs, we are still fundamentally committed to welcoming and supporting the diversity which is found in  21st century Britain.  To do anything less than this, or to deny people their human rights, would be a denial of loving our neighbours as ourselves, as Jesus commands us to do. The Liberal Democrat party supports one multiracial diverse country.
  • Constitutional reform:   Despite the failure of the AV Referendum and the House of Lords Reform Bill, those issues have not gone away.  Indeed with such high degrees of voter apathy and disengagement from politics in Britain, it is vital to help make our system more responsive to and representative of the British people. This will require some form of proportional representation and a House of Lords more directly accountable to the citizenry.  A massive issue is to devolve power in an appropriate way to all 4 nations in the UK.  Whist appreciating that the Scots have the right to self-determination, I sincerely hope that they will decide to stay within the UK – we need them and can all do so much more together.  But a ‘No’ to independence, will in any event undoubtedly set off a process leading to ‘devo max’.  This in turn will require real devolution to all the other nations, including England and its regions. Moreover, if it is good enough for Scottish teenagers to have the vote on something as fundamental as the very integrity and future of the UK, 16/17 year olds should have the vote throughout the UK for all levels of government.  At the Spring party conference in York (March 7-9, 2014) all these issues will be debated in a policy motion which I believe will result in the Liberal Democrat party offering  tangible policies for a more democratic, accountable, responsive devolved federal state for all 4 nations, fit for the 21st  century.
  • Internationalism:  There is one world, just as there is one Church.  The Liberal Democrats are instinctively the most internationalist of all the parties. The world’s most intractable problems require global solutions, whether it be global climate change, managing natural resources, preventing and dealing with security threats, tackling serious crime, managing migration flows,  or a host of other issues.  As an internationalist Christian, I feel fully at home in a party committed to a modernized federal UK state, which is a leading and reform-minded member of the EU, a bulwark of NATO, with deep historical/cultural links to the Commonwealth, and contributing significantly to world peace and development through all of these bodies, including the United Nations. In terms of internationalism, the Liberal Democrat party is simply the best show in town!

There are some other strengths to the Liberal Democrat party – a very high degree of internal democracy; we actually vote (one conference delegate one vote) on policy motions, which in turn become party policy.  I am particularly proud of innovative policies we have approved promoting science, our role in the EU, decriminalising (not legalisation) of drugs for instance. Being a relatively smaller and weaker national party, it is actually easier for people with talent and drive to move far and rapidly – this is particularly true for youth, and increasingly for women and ethnic minorities.

However, there are some very serious weaknesses.  First is the relatively weak financial position, as the party can not draw readily on any special interest groups.  Second, and sadly, with the possible exception of Orkneys & Shetland, there is no such thing as a safe parliamentary seat.  Third, we are the butt of many jokes and attacks of being spineless, indistinctive part of a soggy middle ground. My view is that such attacks are unfounded in reality.  Anyhow, God does not ask us to be popular, merely faithful.

As a Christian, I would rather that all believers would engage wherever they feel comfortable within the body politic of the UK to be faithful servants to build God’s Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven. There is no perfect political party, just as there is no perfect church, but for the reasons above, I choose to pitch my tent in the Liberal Democrat party.



Categories: Faith in society, Party politics

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7 replies

  1. In a hurry:

    I instinctively warm to you as a person despite your one flaw..you didn’t vote Green along the way 😉

    As a Greenie I’d point out that, according to climate researchers, there’s a real chance that BAU economics will make human flourishing virtually impossible within this century, along with sizeable proportions of non-human life extinct.

    What your party – and all other parties excepting the Greens – call ‘growth’, In my humble opinion, is increasingly more predatory capitalism: The recent sale (theft?) of post office, NHS privatisation, Banksters bonuses and ‘miss selling’ (fraud in everyday language)..

    The Greens would argue for de-growth; living within planetary means.

    • As a green Lib Dem (and, full disclosure: a friend of the author’s) who has also felt let down by the party at times on environmental issues, I agree that looking after our planet is the most important responsibility we have.

      For all the Lib Dems’ faults however, we have been trying our hardest to do as much as we can while in coalition with a party that for the most part seems not to care or even actively disbelieves in the science. It’s also the case that in a democracy, even something as important as the health of the environment has to be balanced against the other wishes and concerns of voters. And – as you’ll be only too aware – it’s been very difficult to persuade huge numbers of voters to prioritise the environment above all other concerns at the ballot box.

      Although there are lots of Green Party policies I do find attractive, there are also plenty I don’t. I don’t think we need to ‘de-grow’; environmentally sustainable growth is perfectly possible. Even if I’m wrong about that, if we can’t achieve enough power to change policies, neither of our parties can do anything much about it, and – going back to the failings of the Lib Dems in power – nothing is going to be possible without compromise.

      And that would be just as true of the Greens as it has been with the Lib Dems.

      • Hi Jonathan,

        You say that you believe that environmentally sustainable growth is possible. That leads me to two questions. Firstly, given that economic growth has – to date – always required increased consumption of material goods, and that we’re on a finite planet, and using up an awful lot of non-renewable resources already (in some cases, to the point of exhaustion), how do you see that working over the long term?

        Secondly, why do you want to see growth in the first place? The UK already has an economy that’s more than big enough to provide for everybody’s actual needs, so why do you think that we need to be aiming at making it even bigger, rather than aiming on ensuring that those at the bottom of our society get a bigger share?

        Of course, as a Green, I will admit that the Lib Dems are easily the best of the big three parties on environmental issues (and I applaud your efforts). But, as I said in my piece in this series, I don’t think that even you are taking the issue seriously enough.

  2. This was a brave thing to do, and I think it is well written, cogent and honest!

  3. This is fantastic John!

    I think you’ve made the case wonderfully. Speaking as someone who met you via the Liberal Democrats (at my first party conference), I would like to add another reason to those you’ve given above – i.e. fellow party members.

    To be fair, this is probably true of many campaigning organisations, and I’m sure I feel this more because I feel I have so much in common with many members. Although that said, I’ve frequently been struck by just how diverse the membership is, and how much I disagree with people on certain issues…

    Anyway, meeting great (and not, so great) people committed to improving the lives of people through politics is a big incentive for me.

  4. Bedroom tax, demonization of the poor, the North v South, food banks, marketisation of the NHS, fragmentation of Education: where do these sit with the Gospel? Where’s the Theology? Plenty of political Theory but no Theology. Capitalism and Christianity ?

  5. @Stephen (sorry, I can’t reply to your comment directly).

    I agree that economic growth has historically consumed irreplaceable natural resources and that these are finite. But not all growth. Obviously the use of fossil fuels cannot continue at the current rate indefinitely. Even if climate change didn’t cause so much disruption that our industrial economies collapsed, it would only be a matter of time before we run out. My growth that has been built on renewable resources has always happened too. I think we have the required technology to – if we are prepared to make the political decisions necessary – switch over all of our consumption to renewables. In practice, that would take a long time, and would be difficult and would involve a lot of costs. But ANY solution to these problems will, and doing nothing isn’t going to make the problem go away. There is no reason why we couldn’t have 100% of our power generated by renewables. There are natural alternatives to non-renewable building materials, packaging materials, etc. Even the rare metals that are so important to our technology can mostly be recycled.

    Secondly, I want to see growth for two reasons. Firstly, because I want personally, and for society, to get richer. I’m willing not to do so if that’s what we have to do to protect the environment, but as I say, I don’t think it is. (Not that I want to get into the details here, but please also understand that although I’d like to ‘get richer’ I also want to see far reaching changes to the way our society shares its wealth: I don’t want to get richer in the current system; I want to get richer in a society that is both getting richer and fairer.)

    Secondly, and more importantly, I think zero-growth is politically impossible to ‘sell’ to the electorate. And if your strategy for saving the world relies – as it must – on getting people to sign up to the idea, then I don’t think it’s a good strategy for saving the world. And the reason why I don’t think zero growth will convince the electorate is because I think it’s a bad idea. Not only is it unnecessary (see above), but historically I don’t think the lives of the poorest have improved much when economic growth has remained static or gone into reverse. Again, this doesn’t mean that growth automatically benefits the poor. That’s clearly not true. But I think it is true that all significant improvements to the living standards of ordinary people have come during periods of economic growth. You could argue that you’re going to break with history and achieve a more equal society without economic growth, but the leap of faith required to believe that it’s possible is I think no smaller than the one required to believe that we can use existing technology to have nearly all of our economic growth driven in an environmentally sustainable way.

    So although I completely agree that the UK has sufficient wealth for everyone to live decent lives, I don’t think it’s politically ever going to be possible to redistribute it without doing so during a period of economic growth. Even then it will be incredibly hard.

    It’s funny. I guess I see the Greens in a similar way to how Labour sees the Lib Dems: as people splitting the vote who really ought to come to their senses and support the larger party with the better chance of making a difference. But as with the Labour/Lib Dem example, there obviously are many significant differences. I think it’s evidently true that there are lots of Lib Dems for whom the environment is not a high priority. But I think it’s also true that the greenest of Green party members would find their environmentalism entirely at home within the Lib Dems. It would be other issues that would be deal-breakers. Obviously for Green party members, they see the Lib Dems as not giving sufficient priority to the environment. For me, the frustrating thing I see about the Greens (re: the environment, never mind other policy areas) is that they are unwilling to take the compromises necessary to achieve anything useful on the environment. Even if the Green party grows enough to be able to exert a direct influence on environmental policy, it is then going to be faced with the same situation the Lib Dems are in now: accept a disappointing compromise with the other parties, or achieve nothing at all?

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