Today’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.
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.