Friday, 23 May 2014

Spoiling for a vote

Today I exercised my democratic right by spoiling my vote for the elections to the European Parliament. To register my disapproval, I chose to adorn my ballot with a picture of R2D2 and C3PO and the caption "these aren't the candidates we're looking for". I have long since felt disenfranchised by the British political system and I feel little enthusiasm for the European Union.

With regards to Europe, I have no problem with immigration, especially for humanitarian purposes, provided there is a robust screening process which protects our country from people who would seek to harm it. Indeed, I think many European countries have a better social structure than Britain and I have the faint hope that they might help improve our own. I don't see however why any British sovereignty should be held by Brussels - the larger an institution, the more bureaucracy and inertia it creates. I might feel different if I thought the ruling powers of Europe were better than our own but, from what little I have read, that doesn't seem to be the case.

I find your lack of faith disturbing

The importance of voting was drummed into by my grandfather to whom the right to take part in a democracy seemed intrinsically linked with the sacrifices of the two world wars. I suspect this is the case for most of my grandfather's generation, especially as one considers than universal suffrage would have been a new phenomenon for their parents.

My voting habits will always be informed by my faith for as the Catechism suggests, "by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will... It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and maybe to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer." [1]

As a consequence, issues of social justice, religious freedom and morality are of greater importance to me than the economy, though I recognise that the latter often has direct consequences to the former. When I was first able to vote, despite some reservations, the Conservative Party seemed to be the closest match to my conservative social tendencies but voting in such a fashion in a first past the post electoral system is an exercise in futility in South Wales. 

In the present, all the mainstream political parties ascribe to the liberal social and moral juggernaut which inexorably quashes opposition thought if not yet quite by de jure then certainly de facto. The family, the bedrock of society, has been economically and ontologically undermined by successive Labour and Conservative governments, religious freedoms fall foul to so-called equality legislation and faith itself is being forced to resign from the public sphere. If the liberal elite have any courage in their convictions, logic dictates that they must confront religious beliefs at odds with their own not just in public but also Church, Mosque, Synagogue and Temple. Liberality should work both ways but many who march under it's banner only seem interested in taking what they can, while they can, actively seeking confrontation, rejoicing when another opposition voice is forced into silence. Such people would do well to remember the advise of Plato "the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery [arises] out of the most extreme liberty".

It's the economy stupid

Personally, I feel that the greatest single contributing economic factor to the current social malaise is exorbitant house and rent prices. The exponential growth of the cost of housing in proportion to the average wage is a social evil. It ties up the majority of our country's earnings in the hands of a few interested parties (mortgage lenders, banks, estate agents, property portfolios) and perpetuates their strangle hold over society. High housing costs locks up capital which would otherwise be spent across a wide variety of industries, thus increasing commerce, creating demand and consequently more job opportunities. It puts greater pressure on the state to provide benefits for those struggling to afford to keep a home of their own, it forces both parents to work to the detriment of family life and also impinges on the quality time they have to spend with one another.

To my mind, a narrow focus on the economy with little consideration for ethics, is leading the country to ruin. We appear to be stuck in an endless cycle of boom and bust, perpetuated by a moribund political system and established elite: Labour get elected and spend money in a completely irresponsible manner; the Conservatives get elected and then enact sometimes draconian cuts which favour their traditional support base. Successive generations of those caught between an ever diminishing political spectrum are alienated during each round of voting and history repeats itself. The result I fear shall be a larger, more desperate and radical body with no natural political home.

To whom shall we go?

Thus we have a conundrum : Men must be governed. Often not wisely, I will grant you, but governed nonetheless. [2] Politics, as a rule, is one of my least favourite topics. I find it very difficult to watch Question Time and debates from the House of Commons, saturated as they are with brinksmanship, points scoring and waffle. I can therefore offer very little by way of alternative suggestions to governance which might dissuade me of my apathy and cure our social ills. In an ideal world, we would be governed by just men and women who took decisions based on what was right and not politically expedient but such dreams are pure fantasy. I wonder if rule by Privy Council was that dissimilar in outcome from our current democracy? Perhaps Churchill was right, the best we can say about democracy is that "it is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried".

And yet, through our vocation to participate fully in the Kingdom of God in temporal affairs, we are called to exercise God's own authority, delegated to us according to the capacities of our own nature. "The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence." In this regard, I do not envy our politicians! 

Man, as a political animal, is bound to be restless. As St Augustine says however, "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in God". 

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 898
[2] Captain Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, 2003
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1884

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