IT WAS a General Election that no one expected and few wanted. In spite of this, ten days after Mrs May’s announcement that she was going to the country on 8 June, campaigning groups have been gearing up. The views of the electorate matter once again. Having delivered its deeply divided verdict on membership of the European Union, it was not expecting to be consulted again until 2020, despite the upheavals that the Brexit negotiations are likely to cause. No doubt the party machines will attempt the slickness of past campaigns: “If it’s Tuesday, we will talk only about health.” But the public should do what it can to subvert this.
There are many issues the electorate will wish to raise: an over-stretched NHS, the social-care sector in crisis, an education system beset by ideological innovations, the acute lack of affordable housing, the north-south economic imbalance, the decimation of local services, the paralysis of the taxation system — the list is long. The tragedy is that many of these matters require deep and open debate about what people most need and value, and, while an election gets the politicians attention, it encourages little beyond guarded point-scoring.
But, of course, Brexit is the most significant political and economic issue facing the country. Conservative avoidance of detail, and Labour’s avoidance of the subject altogether, despite Sir Keir Starmer’s best efforts, should not prevent a Brexit election. It is a concern that the problems of neglect and exclusion that contributed to the heavy anti-EU vote in various regions have not begun to be tackled. None the less, voters can press for the best information available to see beyond the brave faces in Westminster and judge the likeliest outcomes of being held at arm’s length by Brussels.
What part should the Church play? There will be a tendency to caution on the part of many of the clergy, but we see no reason that conviction, belief, and even party allegiance should not be discussed openly. During the Brexit debate, the Church of England’s voice was muted by a concern to appear to be even-handed, even when the arguments did not warrant it. The Church might compare its position to that of the BBC, but its founder was more outspoken than Lord Reith. During the previous two General Elections, fine reports produced by the Mission and Public Affairs Division at Church House had far less impact than they ought because they were not adopted and debated among churchgoers to any great degree. Fears are already being expressed about a low turnout on 8 June, but if there is one thing worse than an absent electorate it is an ill-informed one. Christians should be among the most active of those who see a functioning democracy as the best hope for the poor and marginalised.