Any election is about choices. But the widely different visions for the future course of the UK on offer at this general election mean its result will have decisive repercussions for years to come. We consider some of the major issues at stake and explore how Christians might approach them, in the light of the command to love our neighbour.
Brexit is the issue that dominates. Still unresolved 3½ years after the country narrowly took the decision to leave the European Union, it has fractured the political scene and had wider reverberations across society. Almost every outcome, from revoking Article 50 to leaving without a deal, remains on the table. None will decisively settle the issue, and very little consideration seems to be going into how to address the reality that any resolution of Brexit will leave a large number of people powerfully disappointed.
It will also have significant implications for Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world. This include priorities for its future trade relationships and migration policies, and the country’s influence in international efforts to build a more peaceful, safe and tolerant world for all. Brexit could also have a profound knock-on impact on the future shape of the UK.
A second crucial question in the election is about public services. All the main parties have declared that the austerity years are over, but offer widely different visions for the future of public services – from headline-grabbing investments in a few key areas, to a wholesale expansion of the state’s role. Long-term issues such as how to fairly fund social care for an ageing population, or meet the massive need for affordable housing, are of crucial importance to many people, but are politically tricky.
The major choices about spending priorities are paralleled by similarly challenging questions about how they are to be funded.
Debate around Brexit and public services mean that the traditional election battleground of the economy has rather faded from the forefront of public debate, but remains vitally important. The economy has changed radically from the pre-banking crisis years and, for many, not for the better. Growth has been slow, wages remain below 2008 levels, and productivity has flatlined. Rises in employment and rises in working age poverty have gone hand-in-hand. The previous consensus around generating economic growth and increasing standards of living has broken down, but has not been replaced. At the same time, the nation has made a welcome commitment to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero, as a response to the climate crisis. This must necessarily have huge consequences for our economy and how we live our lives, but at the moment it appears that the debate will largely skirt these deeper longer-term issues.
The experiences of those on the frontline of the rising tide of poverty also rarely make the headlines, but the question of how to tackle deprivation and mitigate its impacts on people’s lives is a key issue for many communities. The freeze in benefit rates means many families do not have enough to live on – foodbank use has skyrocketed – and well documented failures in both the design and implementation of Universal Credit must be faced.
For many refugees and asylum seekers, poverty is compounded by restrictive ‘hostile environment’ policies and the denial of the right to work. The election is also an opportunity to ask how we can restore dignity within the asylum system.
As well as the policy issues at stake, this election campaign has been marked by questions about the character, values and judgement of those who seek power. As we are electing representatives to take decisions on our behalf through the next parliament, rather than simply delegates, these are relevant questions to be asking. But it is important that debates are conducted with respect, both for the other, and for the truth, in order not to undermine the basis of our common life together as a society.
What can we do?
Christians have an important role to play in politics: to love, to pray, and to vote. We must take part, debate with kindness, ask questions, demand honest answers and be offended when truth is not offered. We are called to listen to those on the margins, seek good news for the poor, and stand up for those who are vulnerable – whether that is families who are struggling today, or future generations who do not have a vote but will be affected by our choices.
Each party will have its carefully selected messages to give to the electorate, which may not include the issues that we most care about. How can the scandal of foodbanks be ended? How can we avert climate catastrophe? How can we ensure refugees are treated fairly and humanely? You will have others. In playing our part in these elections, we have the opportunity to raise these questions above the fog, and hold candidates accountable to providing solutions which work for the good of all.
A Prayer for Voters
Loving God, we face a choice.
Be with us as we consider the options
weigh the arguments
and assess the claims and the candidates.
But also prompt us to listen:
to the voices on the margins
to the cry of the earth
and to those who reach a different conclusion to us.
God, we pray that you would
stimulate our minds
stir our hearts
and sanctify our choosing.
Help us also to remember
your command to love our neighbours
both during and after this election.
This reflection was first produced in our Love, Pray, Vote General Election Resources. You can find policy briefings and guidance on hustings here.