I HAVE been wondering what it is that drives us to vote the way
we do. I have my prejudices, and there is a certain party I would
find it hard to vote for. This is not a rational reaction, but a
visceral one; a question of basic loyalties that are very hard to
Politicians know this, of course, and try to tap into those gut
beliefs which inspire the core of their party followers. We even
talk about the "party faithful", as if they were members of a sect.
There is something Manichean about the conviction that salvation
lies on only one side of a political divide, and that total
disaster lies ahead if the other lot get in.
Experience, however, suggests that the most interesting
politicians are those who have the capacity to reach out and
intrigue people whose gut instincts are on the other side. This is
what Margaret Thatcher did to aspirational working-class voters,
and what Tony Blair did to the anxious middle classes. I suspect
that much of the odium in which those two party leaders are now
held goes back to the fact that some at least of their "party
faithful" believe that they betrayed their parties' deepest
instincts. Not only that but, by reaching out beyond party lines,
they encouraged others to a similar betrayal.
But perhaps treachery of this kind is not the gross disloyalty
that it appears to be. It could actually be a political virtue.
Think of Winston Churchill, who crossed the floor of the House of
Commons in 1904 (from Conservative to Liberal) and crossed back
again in 1924. It takes nerve to admit the tug to the heart and
mind of the other side's concerns, and real courage to admit that
the opposition might have some good ideas. By their capacity to
think independently, "treacherous" politicians explode the
Manichean trap: the all-too-cosy notion, beloved by political as
well as religious fundamentalists, that there are only two sides,
and that one is evil and the other is good.
It is this that I am struggling with as I prepare to vote. My
inner Manichee does not know which way to jump, and the result is
that I still don't know quite where I am going to put my cross next
Thursday. There is, of course, no box for the "traitors", because
they all pretend loyalty at election time (though no doubt they
will emerge with a vengeance if the result requires the brokering
of a new coalition). I can only hope that the outcome will include
some genuine surprises; that we will discern providence, and even
humour, when we wake up next Friday morning.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.