This is the sixth and last is the ‘This is why I vote’ series where writers are asked to discuss the reasons for their own political opinions and how they tie with their own faith. As it has progressed, I’ve had several people ask me if there would be a post giving the views of someone who currently does not vote. Frank Cranmer who co-authors the incredibly informative Law & Religion UK blog has kindly offered to give his perspective on this. Frank, as the headline points out, is a Quaker who was previously an Anglican. He is parliamentary and synod editor of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal. He is also the Secretary of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service, the primary purpose of which is to keep the Churches informed of what is going on in the secular policy sphere and to let Government know the Churches’ views on legislation and policy proposals that might affect them. You can also follow Frank and Law & Religion UK on Twitter.
The first five articles in this series are I’m a Christian and this is why I vote Conservative, …why I vote Labour, …Why I vote Green, …Why I vote UKIP and …Why I vote Liberal Democrat. The purpose of sharing these viewpoints is to encourage 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.
I suppose that because I spent most of my adult life working as a clerk in the House of Commons I developed a somewhat warped view of politics and politicians. A very long time ago I was at an election-night party at which about half the guests were colleagues and the other half were members of the local Labour Party. As the results came in, the House of Commons contingent cheered and booed the successful candidates seemingly at random. In the end, the Labour activists asked us what the hell we were playing at – to which we replied that we had to work with these jokers and we didn’t have much time for pompous, boring party hacks of whatever political allegiance. But, for me, the issue goes much deeper than that.
I should say at the outset that wild horses wouldn’t drag me to vote for the BNP or UKIP and that by instinct and upbringing my default position is left-of-centre. That said, however, I found it impossible to vote for a Labour Party that took us to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and was so deferential to Clinton and George W – both of whom, in my view, are people whom you must love in the Lord because it’s the only way you can. But possibly the lowest point for me was when Charles Clarke (Home Secretary from December 2004 to 5 May 2006: remember him?) not only gave us the Identity Cards Act 2006 – thankfully repealed – but brought forward a proposal to allow the police to hold terror suspects without charge for up to 90 days without any mechanism for judicial review. In the end, the plan was ditched, not least because of opposition from a significant number of Labour backbenchers. But it left a very nasty taste indeed.
As for the Conservatives, although (with Margaret Thatcher, I’m afraid) I firmly believe that the free market is the least-inefficient method of allocating resources, in my view its concomitant has to be proper State provision for the poor – of which there is an alarmingly-high number in the UK. Some elements in the Conservative Party seem to think that those who are unemployed should simply pull themselves together and find a job: tell that to folk living in places like the parts of Birmingham where the unemployment level is between 8 and 10 per cent. And I was utterly unconvinced by the Chancellor’s arguments for reducing the top rate of income tax from 50 per cent to 45 per cent. But my principal reason for avoiding the Conservatives is their attitude to human rights in general and to the European Convention on Human Rights in particular. We need a robust and justiciable regime of human rights to protect us against arbitrary and capricious decisions by public authorities and, incidentally, we need an equally robust and accessible mechanism of judicial review of their actions – neither of which seems to be within the comprehension of Lord Chancellor Grayling. And how can we lecture corrupt regimes about their behaviour and promote good governance within the Commonwealth unless we are absolutely squeaky-clean ourselves?
And then there are the Liberal Democrats. At least they have realistic views on the EU and what I regard as a proper regard for human rights: unfortunately, however, they have been compromised by their participation in the coalition with the Conservatives. And I don’t share their enthusiasm for yet more constitutional reform: not because I think that the UK constitution is perfect beyond compare but simply because there are far more important things to worry about. And Lib Dem proposals for reform usually mean electoral changes that would benefit the Lib Dems – which makes one somewhat doubtful about their motives.
If this has any kind of religious angle – apart from the obvious one of the Peace Testimony – it is this. I left the Church of England and became a Quaker precisely in order to get away from “doctrine”: I was no longer able to recite the Nicene Creed without my fingers crossed behind my back so it was time to leave. If I can’t sign up to a doctrinal check-list in matters of religion then, equally, there’s no chance of me signing up to someone’s predetermined political programme. Each of the main political parties has positions with which I agree: each has political positions from which I would run a mile.
As to politicians in general, I hope that the present lot have learned the lessons of the last Parliament. But the expenses scandal gave my belief in the system under which I had worked for 36 years a very severe shaking – from which I have not quite recovered. It wasn’t just the worst offenders who ended up in jail that bothered me; it was the run-of-the-mill MPs who evidently thought that expenses were simply a convenient add-on to their salaries. If I had behaved like that I would certainly have been sacked on the spot and probably prosecuted into the bargain.
So what to do? Write “none of the above” on my ballot-paper? Or is that just a cop-out? Possibly vote Green (I’ve done it before)? Possibly hold my nose and vote Labour on the grounds that at least a Labour Government won’t take us out of the EU or try to rewrite the ECHR? We’ll see when the time comes – but, at the moment, the first of these is the most likely option.