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Indecision at the polling booth

05 May 2017

For the first time, Paul Vallely is not sure which party he will vote for at an election


Ambivalent: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail in Oxford on Thursday.

Ambivalent: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail in Oxford on Thursday.

I HAVE never been a member of a political party. As a working journalist, it never felt appropriate. Having said that, I was always fairly clear how I was going to vote. Until this General Election.

My faith has been a key factor here. Over the years, I have developed an increased sense of the importance of entrepreneurship in the creation of wealth — and the creation of jobs. But the economic self-interest that underlies that has always seemed to me to be a human characteristic that does not need encouragement. In contrast, the need for social justice and the fair treatment of all requires institutions to counter our intuitive selfishness.

So I lean towards towards a kind of Christian socialism — although one that does not stifle economic creativity. Catholic Social Teaching offers useful tools to achieve this: on the foundation of human dignity it erects the twin pillars of solidarity and subsidiarity to support the overarching pediment of the common good.

But let’s not get too theoretical; for voting is also tribal. Whenever I enter a polling booth, I feel the shade of my grandfather at my shoulder. He was a steelworker who pioneered the trade unions’ penny-a-week health-insurance scheme, which was the forerunner of the NHS.

I’m not sure, however, what Granddad would have made of Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps, like me, he would have had reservations about his coherence and competence as a potential prime minister. The Labour leader is possessed of an attractive personal integrity, but, as a lifelong rebel, he has about him the ethos of student politics rather than grown-up realpolitik.

Before I voted yesterday for the new Mayor of Greater Manchester, I tussled with whether a vote for Labour’s Andy Burnham would be a vicarious endorsement of Mr Corbyn.

Mr Burnham has lacked consistency, both in his campaign for the Labour leadership and in his subsequent vacillations in attitude to Mr Corbyn. His fight for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough football disaster, however, showed that he had the ability to learn from his mistakes.

But, in the end, I decided that local issues were paramount. Under the devolution known as Devo-Manc, provision for the NHS and social services is being integrated under local-government care for the first time in the UK. A health economist who worked for Mr Burnham when he was a health minister tells me that his record shows that he is as well-equipped as anyone to undertake this innovative integration. So I cast my vote for Mr Burnham, risking that it might be misinterpreted as a vote for Mr Corbyn.

But I am not so sure that I will be able to do the same thing in the General Election. Labour’s response to the Prime Minister’s seeming determination to pursue a hard Brexit is too ambivalent. The Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to pressing for a second poll to enable the British people to pass judgement on the quality of the deal that Mrs May eventually negotiates.

I have to admit that, this time, I am considering upsetting the ghost of my grandfather.


Paul Vallely is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics at the University of Chester.

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