Thursday, 19 February 2015

Review of "Who is my Neighbour? pastoral letter on politics

The Church of England’s pastoral letter “Who is my Neighbour?” does not address how to pay for the things it advocates such as more localism and the communities it champions at a time when local authority budgets are being axed. So does it have anything worthwhile to say? I think it does about the malaise which is affecting politics in the eyes of many UK voters today.

Many people are facing the next General Election (2015) not knowing who to vote for. Some are saying they will not vote at all. Others feel disconnected from the democratic process, sensing that whatever they vote, the outcome will not address the deeper trends and stresses (including austerity) affecting their lives. The political outcome will not be 'attractive enough', according to the Letter to engage with - and ultimately it will not finally benefit anyone.

To summarise its other points:

The authors point out that since 1950, the number of UK voters participating in General Elections has fallen from 83% to 69% (while the eligible UK population has increased). This could fall further in this General Election - which is why The Letter urges people to vote.

The Letter says the real issue is wider than politicians 'not being liked as a class'. It is a deeper malaise. Modern politics does not create a wider vision to which the people feel able to contribute ideas about the shape of a 'good and virtuous' society in which they feel they have ‘a place of belonging’, significance, purpose and genuine value (in spite of disabilities, age etc).

People feel excluded, while political power is concentrated more and more into fewer hands - instead of being shared out more widely. It sees politicians as seeking centralised control and 'neatness' that assumes self-interest as the driving factor, instead of ideas and idealism. The result lacks the power to unify people, or inspire them: it is a politics of expediency.

The political parties are filled with people who are ambitious for power at a time when the traditional power bases of the old parties have slipped away. They have become expert at ‘marketing targeted policies’ to carefully demographically selected groups, using advanced political science to win votes, to get into power, while ignoring the good or wishes of the majority. Instead of ‘dialoguing with the whole of society’, political power lies in marketing arts and techniques. Professional lobbyists have retail 'shopping lists' of demands which they tick off as each one is achieved, using every media tool available.

Politics and elections become not a discussion of what the people need, or want, but who will manage the same system better : one party or the other?

The Letter’s advice on choosing which candidate to vote for:
  • hold all candidates accountable for what they claim and (over) promise 
  • cut through their jargon 
  • cut through and their 'on-message glibness' (which is typical political language today) 
  • vote for real people who have ‘freed themselves from the glibness’ and who show a sympathy that would make them genuinely connect to people as their proper representative. 

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