Britain prides itself on being a democracy. Democracy is a noble...
Joshua Parikh urges us to consider biblical principles when voting in the upcoming general election
Like it or not, election season approaches again - following Theresa May’s shock announcement of a snap election and Parliament’s approval, all the UK parties are gearing up for another election.
I’ve already started to receive adverts on Facebook from local parties; full campaigns will start soon; and we might get a couple of debates in there too. Given that there’s no turning back now, here are some practical reflections on how we can approach this election season:
1. Gratitude is the attitude
It’s very easy to be jaded, grumpy and apathetic. I’m not happy that Theresa May has called it in the way she has, given her repeated claims that she wouldn’t. But we can’t miss the fact that the democratic system is an enormous privilege - people have protested across the world for the rights we have to vote, campaign, criticise leaders, assemble and engage in democratic discourse: from the Umbrella protests in Hong Kong to the Civil Rights Movement in America to the Suffragette Movement in the UK.
Our democratic rights are an awesome privilege, as democracy brings about great goods and prevents great harms. Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen argues there’s a link between democracy and the elimination of famines. We could also look at the human rights repressions which characteristically take place in non-democratic nations, from harsh repression in China to atrocities committed in Syria. Let’s count our own blessings, that we only have to put up with [insert your least favourite political figure/party] and not something far worse.
2. Think deeply
From old to recent times, many philosophers have railed against democracy. Socrates suggested the wider population simply couldn’t be trusted with democracy, compared to more informed experts or "philosopher kings".
The idea of a completely uninformed electorate has gained both popularity and some support from recent elections, whether due to the desperate misinformation inherent in many political campaigns or the disposition of voters to not check facts properly, but rather to conform to preconceived narratives.
It is vital that we take our democratic duty seriously - not merely voting based on the whims of opinion or emotions, but reflecting carefully on who would be the best to run our country.
3. Listen to people you disagree with
We’re tempted to believe we’re right about political matters already, and political prejudice is quite entrenched. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that political prejudice might be more entrenched than racial prejudice, and recent election campaigns have been bathed in demonising opposing views. Opposing parties are often considered not merely wrong but evil and monstrous!
We therefore need to look carefully at the policies of the different parties, and evaluate the previous claims and actions of the two major parties in their respective areas. But we also need to go further than this and respectfully listen to people we disagree with. These decisions are often difficult for people on both sides. We don’t have all the answers individually and so there’s a clear need to be respectful to those we disagree with, both instrumentally so that we can learn more from others and knowing our demanding obligations to love everyone - neighbours, friends, each other and enemies. This is particularly crucial among Christians - as Christians in Politics repeatedly emphasis, our "primary allegiance is to a higher king".
4. Vote on behalf of the least
The Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes gave sound advice on the announcement of the election: "If there is to be an election, may I ask all followers of the risen Christ to think, speak and vote so as to help the poorest and displaced."
The Old and New Testament have a pervasive bias towards the poor, whether in structures such as gleaning (Leviticus 19:9), descriptions of God as the one who "maintains the cause of the needy and executes justice for the poor", and continual commands to care for the poor (Jeremiah 22; Isaiah 58, etc. See Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice for more on this.) Politics is a sphere where we are able to accomplish massive good through international development, housing, social care, environmental policy and so much else. We need to use this opportunity and vote on behalf of those who have the greatest needs.
In a time when we have a worldwide refugee crisis, the government's support for refugee resettlement has been very weak. After saying they’d take 3000 refugees under the Dubs Amendment - a pitiful number in comparison to other countries, they went back on this commitment, and refused to take more than 350. Refugee policy should be at the very front of our minds. The way in which we treat refugees is emblematic of our country, and a recent letter to the government supporting the Dubs Amendment was signed by hundreds of Church leaders and figures.
Joshua Parikh is a student studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University
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