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Political issues: the elections, and wealth inequality

23 January 2015


From the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan

Sir, - Your report (News, 16 January) of Show Up, a movement to "encourage Christians to get involved in politics", did not touch on a significant factor in "disillusionment". The simple truth is that voting under our present first-past-the-post electoral system is for large numbers a fruitless exercise.

In the past, this has been most marked in the 200 or so safe seats, where voting is cosmetic only; but in May this year we may also see 200 or more seats where no fewer than five political parties (six in Scotland) with nationwide credibility are in contention with each other, and other minor parties are also standing. The upshot could be large numbers of MPs (of almost any persuasion) returned with a vote of between 20 per cent and 35 per cent of those who voted, and returned not because they were most wanted, but because the five-way split of votes made it wholly random which of the candidates would be returned. The chances are that the result not only would be random, but would, in a proportion of seats, return the candidate least wanted by the 65-80 per cent of the electors who had voted for other parties.

The curious factor in this is that for nearly 100 years the Church of England has used the wholly just system of the single transferable vote (STV) in its own main elections, and thus holds the high moral ground over against the injustices that we are likely to see in the May election. In our General Synod, and its committees, we can demonstrate that the people have elected the people they wanted. The parliamentary system cannot do that all.

This is a justice question. If we are to do what the report advocates by "seeing politics as another mission field", then please can all who are speaking for us, and all who have a chance actually to engage, put the axe to the root of our unjust electoral system? Exhorting people to vote within a laissez-faire acceptance of the system is opting out of our mission responsibility.

Colin Buchanan
21 The Drive, Leeds LS17 7QB


From the Rt Revd Michael Doe

Sir, - Your report "Contributors united on sandy foundations" ( News, 16 January) reinforces what the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility said in our recent report on income inequality, Using Ethical Investment to Close the Gap, a radical call to action for the investor community to use their ownership responsibilities to address ever increasing levels of wealth inequality in the UK.

We need to address the issue of inequality from both directions. For those at the bottom of society, many are in multiple and insecure jobs, and one in five workers is still paid less than the Living Wage. This is even before we address the question why unemployed and disabled people are having their benefits cut.

At the other end, last year, the average CEO in a FTSE 100 company earned £4.7 million: 358 times the earnings of a full-time worker on the national minimum wage. ECCR asks how this can be ethical, and challenges companies to make public their pay differentials and how they justify them.

For too long, investors have presided over a corporate system that over-rewards the elite while leaving many employees at poverty level. We want individual and institutional investors within our churches to revisit their responsibilities, as the owners of these businesses, to challenge companies to tackle low pay and insecure work, and to justify salaries and bonuses at the top.

The current inequality is bad for the people involved, unhealthy for society as a whole, and often not good for business itself. The report is on our website: www.eccr.org.uk.

Michael Doe
ECCR, c/o Harling House
47-51 Great Suffolk Street
London SE1 0BS

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