“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Psalm 46: 1-3
“How to pray for the General Election” was the title of the Bishop of Oxford’s address to his Diocesan Synod on Saturday morning, following an open letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury and many of the other bishops at the end of September. It reflects the reconciling role which the Church of England hopes to play in order to draw UK politicians, and the British people, together once the dust has cleared.
Bishop Steven’s guidance included Lament, Thanksgiving, Intercession, Discernment and Silence: all unquestionably strong recommendations. The prospects for these getting a hearing will hopefully rise after 12th December, and will no doubt be assisted by the Christmas break just 10 days’ later.
So in this commentary we take a long look at some of the political parties’ ideas in circulation, but first acknowledging why the centre ground lost its appeal in 2016.
“Nations are in uproar”, says verse 6 of Psalm 46, and indeed they are at present. Whether it’s Donald Tusk sounding off about Brexit when he should be acknowledging that premature formation of the Eurozone is what caused the whole debacle, or whether it’s the US Government threatening to impeach President Trump, they’re all at it. Our commentary of 25th June 2018 explained why the Eurozone has been such a disaster for the European Union, but the centre ground is still not acknowledging the disruption it has caused.
Not surprisingly, our politicians are joining in the fun. Scottish independence has been the subject of much hot air over the past week, and yet no consideration is being given as to whether the European Union would want Scotland as a member after Brexit, with its substantial economic deficit - and another troublesome land border with England.
Meanwhile, the magic money tree is in full production with both leading parties making spending promises of massive proportions. However the Labour Party is really pushing the boat out. If their grandiose plans ever saw the light of day, the national debt would rise to over $3 trillion - and Generation Z would see over a quarter of their taxes just going into servicing it.
This debt would include huge issues of bonds compulsorily exchanged with shares in companies to be nationalised: such as the extraordinary scheme to provide free broadband by nationalising Openreach, BT’s network division.
But lest we think that there is a monopoly of crackpot ideas in the United Kingdom, I have now had my question about US Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren answered (Commentary 12th August 2019). It’s now clear that she is not an egalitarian capitalist: she is indeed a socialist, with a plan to levy a 6% annual tax on the wealth of all US billionaires (2% for those with over $50 million) and plough the proceeds into universal benefits - medical welfare. Regular listeners/readers will know that I’m not a fan of universal benefits. So - thank goodness Michael Bloomberg is considering entering the Democratic race.
Last week, this commentary made the case for popular inheritance fuelled by the inheritance levy. But the key point is not just levelling down the wealthy, but giving hope and opportunity by empowering disadvantaged young people with capital that they have earned through their own efforts to build life skills. This is what the likes of Warren, Corbyn and McDonell seem to miss.
Looking across the field of 2019 Parliamentary candidates, the two leaders with the most coherent propositions are Boris Johnson, and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party. Boris, because we must indeed get Brexit done, and we must get the vibrant economy of the United Kingdom moving with new trade deals and a ‘can-do’ attitude. By all means send Nigel Farage to the United States as our ambassador, but let’s not have his political party splitting the Brexit vote.
But let us also hope that Caroline Lucas, with her new voting deal with the Liberal Democrats, also makes some progress with the Green Party. In the past week, we’ve seen flooding in South Yorkshire, flooding in St Mark’s Square in Venice, huge fires in California and Australia - climate change is a reality, and we must take it seriously.
So, if Boris gets his outright majority, he should consider reaching across party lines and asking Caroline Lucas to serve as Secretary of State for the Environment. That would be a strong initiative for political reconciliation, and it would pave the way for a meaningful reconciliation programme for both people and politicians, taking a lead from Archbishop Justin and his House of Bishops.
A corner can be turned on 12th December - but will we, the electorate, make that call?
Gavin Oldham OBE