There is such a thing as the Christian vote and this is what it looks like

Polling Station smallSo the election frenzy is over for another year. Thursday’s Newark by-election result proved that though UKIP may have caused their main political rivals a severe headache at the European elections, they still have some way to go to make a significant impact at next year’s General Election.

We now begin the long run-in to next year’s big event and Nick Clegg is already making noises today, attempting to rally his beleaguered troops and spur them on for the overwhelming job that lies ahead for the Lib Dems.

It’s been a fascinating few weeks speaking to friends and colleagues about their voting intentions and thoughts on the current state of play in British politics. When I was speaking at a Christian conference a couple of weeks ago I thought it would be interesting to open things up and ask those attending about their attitudes towards the current political environment. I’d hoped a few people might be willing to air their opinions, but I needn’t have worried. It quickly morphed into a heated debate with plenty of strong feelings and frustrations being poured out. If anyone came along thinking Christians might be apathetic towards politics, they would have quickly changed their minds.

I saw something similar happen last summer when Stephen Timms MP spoke at the New Wine festival in Somerset. During the Q&A session at the end, a large queue of questioners formed waiting their turn to speak into the microphone. Being Christians the tone was polite, but also forceful as point after point was raised about the real and perceived failures of our party political system and what needs to be addressed.

As I’ve listened to people speak, hosted a series of guest blogs from Christians with affiliations across the political spectrum and analysed research I’ve seen distinctive trends emerge. What I’ve found is that many Christians are broadly in agreement, when it comes to political opinions. This agreement is not along the traditional lines of left/right politics though, which may explain why there is both so much disillusionment amongst Christians towards the way our democracy is run and also why politicians struggle to win genuine support from Christian voters.

There is a paradox amongst Christians in that they are far more likely to vote than the general population, but also find a difficult tension in aligning themselves too closely with any political party. The reason which comes up time and again is the underlying concern that tying yourself to a party involves making compromises and for Christians faith comes first. Supporting a party that stands for things you disagree with whether it be attitudes to welfare, abortion, or gay marriage is often uncomfortable or even impossible. Tribal politics which continually attempts to bring down the opposition at all costs and attacking certain sections of society does not fit with an approach of loving your neighbour and seeking the best for others. Voting is done with noses held as the ‘least of a bad bunch’ is chosen.

This partly would explain why I’ve seen several Christians who take their politics seriously vote for UKIP this time round. It’s not that they have any love for UKIP or a great desire to leave the EU, but rather they have such little faith in the main parties that  a chance to challenge the status quo, giving our party leaders a reason to reflect on how well they are doing their jobs is seen as a worthwhile exercise.

Such a level of discontent is of course not confined to those of a religious persuasion. This is an ongoing issue of a perceived out-of-touch Westminster elite that is affecting most voters’ view of politics. Christians are no different in this respect and in many ways their voting behaviours are similar to their next door neighbours’. According to a recent study by the Christian think tank, Theos, which party can best run the economy is the primary reason for Christians to vote for a particular party, followed by immigration concerns (although personally I have seen very little evidence of the latter). Most people, irrespective of their beliefs are sensible enough to understand that if the economy falls apart, it impacts every area of society. The question comes down to who is trusted to run the economy well and how the wealth generated should be distributed.

Christians will disagree on approaches to these issues profoundly. There is much that could be said on this but what I frequently see is that by nature Christians tend to have socialist leanings when in their own environment. By this I mean that churches and Christians are particularly good at looking after their own . If someone is in need, congregations are very likely to rally round and support them, sometimes in incredibly generous ways. This was the approach of the early church where, ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.’ (Acts 2:44,45).

Much as we would love our society to function in this way the reality is that whilst this attitude may work on a micro-scale where everyone is united through their belief, it is not possible to transfer this up to a macro-level, especially as not everyone will be united in compassion for those around them or in a possess a willingness to contribute to the greater good. The question that divides Christians across the political spectrum is how and to what extent the government can force its citizens through laws and taxation to do what Christians are expected to through the teachings of the Bible.

This is a disagreement over pragmatism rather than morals and values. Behind this though, there is much in common. If you look at the guest posts from earlier this year from Christians advocating different political parties and also research I carried out at the start of last year, it’s clear that it is the moral issues that get Christians worked up, not what is best for them as individuals. How the poor are treated is a common theme as you would expect, as are families, marriage, religious freedom, the environment and the integrity of our leaders. I’ve seen Christians with a variety of political persuasions united in wanting to see the government treat the poor with dignity and fairness. There is a collective social conservatism too that longs for greater support for families, a rejection of morality free capitalism and an upholding of some more traditional social structures that does not see all ‘progress’ as positive.

If there were political movements that encompassed these attitudes they would probably bear some resemblance to Phillip Blond’s Red Tory or Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour. Both of these identify how both left and right have failed to create a state that serves its citizens with a moral compass. They take inspiration from Catholic social teaching and place high value upon politics that serve local communities and the common good. David Cameron’s much trumpeted but poorly executed Big Society had roots in these political philosophies. This approach to political thinking is radical because it forces politicians from all sides to challenge the ways they approach governance and accept that religion and morality is a necessary component of a society that functions well.

It’s interesting that David Cameron went out of his way to talk about the importance of his Christian faith at Easter. There is seen to be a lack of integrity in a political system that is inhabited by robo-politician MPs, spouting party propaganda: “Blah, blah, COST OF LIVING CRISIS! Blah, blah…” Cameron went out of his way to open up, be honest and risk being shot down. It doesn’t get him off the hook with plenty of Christians I meet who are still angry about the way 600,000 signatories were completely snubbed and ignored because they disagreed with same-sex marriage last year, but what he did do was acknowledge that Christianity has something to offer this country.

Many Christians deep down believe the values and principles of their faith have much to teach those who hold the reins of power. This is really what the Christian vote looks like in the UK. It’s a desire to see this country changed for the better, for politicians who are real people, who show that they care more about the vulnerable in society, than they do for their own standing and for them to work together more rather than go at each others’ throats week after week.

The thing is if you put this sort of approach to most people irrespective of their beliefs or politics, they’d probably agree with it. The Christian vote is really the vote for a more ambitiously moral politics that values its electorate and any party that takes it seriously is bound to reap the rewards both for itself and the nation.

 



Categories: Elections, Faith in society, Party politics

12 replies

  1. How does this sit with the “Christian Party”. I read their manifesto and found, like so many other parties, that I could not agree with some of their views. As you said here I ended up voting for the party which was (in my opinion) the least worst.

  2. I have settled on voting for the candidate (not the party) whom I believe will most closely mirror my outlook when it comes to voting. It remains a fact that if that candidate wins they will most likely disappoint me on occasions over the life of a parliament; but at least if they vote in a way that belies promises made or views expressed during the election I will have a proper issue to take up!

    I know that we are stuck with party politics but we need to find ways of making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. What annoys me most is when politicians claim to be following the will of the people (or as Derek Hatton put it many years ago “we have a mandate”) when they have often been elected by less than 50% of the people voting and something less than 30% of the franchised population!

  3. Another excellent article; your characterisation of why I chose to vote UKIP was spot on! As I may have said before, the radical solution is annual parliaments – i.e. an election EVERY year – so that politicians have to justify the hard things they are proposing to do, not just backpedal about them until elected, and then hope their benefits come through before the next election. A reduction of the cycle from 5 to 4 years would be a move in the right direction, though not enough to make a real difference.

  4. I agree with all of your comments, you may recall I did a guest blog a little while ago on the theme of the New Levellers. Since then I have been working with a small group of people to see if we can do something to shift the dynamic in favour of action. The ideas is to work with local groups of people, as interested in politics as your blog suggests, but to help them find ways forward on a local level. We have a twitter page @inntegr8 and are working on a website. We have found local interest in places in the South East (Ashford, Eastbourne, Brighton and Chichester and there are some other points of interest in the North West. Anyone interested do please get in touch with us via the twitter page (or email me IanPChisnall@aol.com)

  5. I am Labour but I do respect Christians who vote for most political parties. I have close friends / family who are Tories and Lib Dem. But I CANNOT respect a Christian who votes UKIP. It is UKIP policy to weaken maternity and employment rights – and in that regard, a Christian who votes UKIP relinquishes their right to pray for couples struggling with fertility – and also for those struggling with the *economic* consequences of job insecurity (including the need to resort to foodbanks and loan sharks). I know that, personally, if I ever need prayer on either of these issues, I will need reassurance from those praying that they haven’t voted UKIP..

    • /Baffled.

      Yet you’re ok with Labour, who’s deputy leader campaigned for the decriminalisation of various kinds of child pornography?

      God does not track the voting record of his church. If anyone asked me who I voted for before ‘allowing’ me to pray for them I’d try gently to suggest they had allowed something to become more important to them than their saviour.

      • Gotta agree with D.Hant. Selecting 1 party because of certain issues that you find objectionable is crass when the other parties that you find acceptable have various things that others would find objectionable.
        And to suggest that a Ukip-voting Christian can’t pray for those suffering the heartbreak of fertility issues is even more crass! That’s like saying that anyone in a gay marriage gives up the right to pray for those in heterosexual marriage. Political disagreement does not remove Christian compassion!!!

  6. Excellent Article Concern and fairness for the poor. The importance of family and community structures. A moral economic system, Integrity in politicians and public institutions. These are the areas where Christians can be united, speak out and press politicians of all parties. A christian party is not the answer but we can engage constructively passionately and regularly with politicians on these central biblical principles.

  7. As a Christian in a political party (In my case, Labour) It can be difficult. Many have pre conceived notions about what Christians are like (not all of them good), and it is hard in an environment where to get the policies you want, you have to win elections! I have found over the years that it is best to be servant like while trying to keep your integrity, and, again, that is hard!

  8. Thanks Paul. I do admire all those Christian who are involved in party politics and work hard to keep their integrity. We need more!

    If we’re going to see the state of politics and the public’s perceptions towards politicians improve then we need to see more people working to change the system for the better who care for the right reasons.

%d bloggers like this: