2019 Election: Some Baptist Views

Baptist Messenger
Nov 29, 2019 · 14 min read

5 Presentations of 500 words, each by UK Baptists making the case for the party they support

PART 1 OF 2

Introduction

Baptists are as divided in their political opinions as the rest of the populace. But in inviting members of Baptist Collaboration to express their views, the response has been surprising. On the surface, there appears to be much more support for parties traditionally regarded as ‘left wing’, a luke-warm response from more centrist parties, and virtually no reaction from those we regard as right wing. This may be because there are very few supporters of Conservative and Brexit parties respectively from within the Baptist ranks. It may also be, because such folk prefer to remain silent because of their views have been subjected to severe criticism.

Of course, we all know that no party and neither side in the leave-remain debate has a monopoly on ignorance. Remainers can all too often speak unwittingly with a sense of their own infallibility (even if language is tempered with ‘remain and reform’). Brexiters on the other hand, can sometimes promote a sense of nationalistic pride that, to many, sounds racist or xenophobic. Naturally, each of us — regardless of our position — can obtain facts to support decisions we make for entirely non-rational reasons. After all, reason arises at sunset. In other words, facts, reasons, rationality are often wheeled out to support subconscious decisions we have long since made for emotional reasons. Little wonder that debates often tend to be fruitless, endless and pointless.

In a church meeting, changing one’s mind in the course of lively discussion (or more likely, in post-meeting reflection) is part of the reason we gather together. We encounter holiness when we encounter another, and Christ often reveals himself in the voice of those with whom we profoundly disagree. The capacity to allow our mindset (or ‘nous’) to be transformed after (‘meta’) such an encounter is what scripture means by repentance (‘metanoia’). This is the beating heart of Baptist political discourse. In public political discourse however, if a party representative changes their mind in the course of debate, they are sacked.

To change one’s mind is not necessarily to switch party allegiance. It can mean to hang a question mark over one’s own presumed infallibility, and to feel a sense of disturbance about the credibility of positions that threaten us.

To model a Christian political discourse then, is profoundly difficult. It does not require that we wrap our strongly held convictions in the false humility of debilitatingly polite language. It means that robust, difficult, and strongly expressed anger, frustration or enthusiasm are properly heard — that our emotion as well as our reason is expressed. Disagreement can be strong and disturbing, it can cause offence and upset. Rather than shy away from all that, a genuine exchange brings these difficulties to the table in the knowledge that they are underpinned by a greater sense of seeking the mind of Christ.

I am extremely grateful to all those who, in one commentator’s words, have ‘put their heads above the parapet’. The hope is that we might hear one another well and see where that leads us.

Simon Perry, 29.11.2019

Why I support the Conservative Party

Jeremy Balfour

As a Conservative MSP it will come as no shock to anyone that I will be casting my vote for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party on 12th December. Here I will explain how my faith has led me to believe that the Conservatives are the best option for the UK.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus placed a high value on oaths and promises. In Matthew 5 he urges his followers not to make a promise if they cannot follow through on that promise. In verse 37 he instructs us: “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’”. I believe that this instruction extends to the political world.

Before both the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and the 2016 EU Referendum, political leaders promised to abide by the outcome of the democratic vote (despite not being legally required to). Promises were made before the referendum that should be abided by. Whether or not I voted in favour of the outcome, I respect the decision made by a democratic vote. The Conservative Party is one of the only parties that has stood by its promise and is absolutely committed to delivering Brexit. This is not because all members voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum; but instead, because we are determined to stick to our word which was to respect the decision made by the general public, no matter the outcome.

Furthermore, the Conservative Party so believe that individuals should take responsibility for providing for themselves and their family. However, despite the common misconception, Boris Johnson and the Conservatives do believe in and support public services so that when people are unable to provide for themselves and their families, there is a safety net.

In fact, the recently published Conservative manifesto makes it clear that public services are a priority to the party. As the manifesto states, a key reason that we want to deliver Brexit quickly is to ensure that “public services get the attention that they deserve”.[i] Our pledge to increase funding of the NHS by 29 percent between 2018 and 2023; to employ 50,000 more nurses; and to create 40 million more GP surgery appointments a year, show that our commitment to improve public services is not simply lip-service.

Why I’m not voting for other parties

In Scotland, politics is not a battle between Conservative and Labour. Currently the SNP are the dominant party and the Conservatives are the strong opposition. I will not vote for a party that wishes to break up the union because I genuinely believe that we are stronger together. Mark 3:24 says: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” I believe this to be true in our politics. To break up our union would do more harm than good, and I think that more positive change can be made to the lives of our citizens if all nations in the UK work together.

Why I support the Green Party

Barney Barron

The Green Party offer the most radical solution of all parties in this election to tackle climate change. With the promise of investing £100 billion a year on their Green New Deal.

This will end our addiction to fossil fuels with sources of renewable energy. Improving the energy efficiency of homes and building 100,000 new energy efficient council homes. They promise to provide cheaper, more efficient public transport whilst opening up safe cycleways and footpaths. The Greens will invest in technology to decarbonise industry. Our rural industry will benefit from 700 million new trees and investment in ethical food production, including rewilding where possible.

Green policies reduce climate change, improve wellbeing and stimulate a sustainable economy. I believe as a Christian we have a God given mandate to care for creation.

The Green Party also want to invest in a Universal Basic Income which would cut down on a wasteful and costly bureaucratic welfare system that deters people from taking short-term work, volunteering or caring for elderly parents. It will also reduce poverty and inequality in our society. It will resource people to study and offer security for people to start their own businesses.

The kind of investment the Greens are proposing is not just imperative environmentally, but it will stimulate the economy from the bottom up, creating a fairer more equitable society. Green policy will also ensure the wealthy pay their fair share of tax.

The Greens will scrap the very costly Trident programme. They state “Real security cannot be based upon a balance of nuclear terror, nor upon a global domination by a group of states operating largely from self-interest.”

The Greens are the only party sending out a clear, fair and consistent message on Brexit that respects democracy. “A People’s Vote to decide the way forward on Brexit, in which the Green Party will campaign for remain. A commitment to realise the full potential of the European Union to lead the fight against the Climate Emergency and to improve the lives of workers, low income families and refugees.”

Many people say I would vote Green but I want to vote tactically. The problem is we have an unfair electoral system which the Greens want to address with a P.R. voting system and devolve power to local councils who are best placed to make decisions effecting their local community.

Lib Dems and Tories were co-authors of devastating austerity. [ii] They both play fast and loose with the truth.

Swinson’s voting record on welfare is harsh and her voting record on climate change is mixed.

The Brexit party deny climate change and Tories refuse to take it seriously.

Labours policies are not radical enough on climate change, spending and nuclear armoury.

Why I support the Labour Party

Simon Perry

I am voting Labour because I am conservative. This means, I want to conserve human wellbeing and reject belief in destructive utopias. The centrist status quo is a destructive utopia: unwitting and unquestioning belief in infinite economic growth (in a finite planet) is, by definition, utopian. It is destructive because once all avenues of growth have been exhausted, profiteers turn to plunder our public institutions and dry-roast our planet. Since no right-minded nation would allow this, a new economic ideology has emerged in the last generation.

It has no respect for democracy — but must maintain democratic appearances[vi]. It enables wealthy donors to control governmental decisions (lobbyism)[vii]. It sues democracies for protecting people against profiteers (Ttip)[viii]. It creates massive ideological apparatus to ensure the public remain oblivious (PR).[ix] It removes regulations designed to protect people from predatory capitalism (deregulation). It raises money not by taxing the powerful but by reducing support for society’s weakest members (austerity). It seizes public assets from which it might profit (privatisation). It creates legitimate anger amongst the populace, and directs that anger away from those who caused this crisis, to society’s weakest members (populism). Although it penetrates the psyche of every modern person, like a cancer it remains almost undetectable until it is too late.

It is called Neoliberalism.

No major political party had the courage to challenge it, until in 2015 the Labour Party elected a leader to do just that. No, he is not the Messiah. But for the first time in a generation there is a major political party standing in defiance of this global, demonic force. And inevitably, its leader has become the most demonised, maligned, misreported figure in the history of British politics[x]. Such is the fate of any major leader to take this stand[xi].

Neoliberal forces are an ecocidal boa-constrictor slowly crushing the life out of humanity. Meanwhile, the Church is oblivious, the prophets are silent, and the evangelists are preoccupied clipping the toenails of humanity and calling it ‘salvation’. In our generation the Church has failed to stand against the ‘principalities and powers.’ It is high time we started.

Under Blair (whom Thatcher described as her ‘proudest achievement’) Labour came to treasure Thatcher’s beloved Neoliberalism.

The Brexit and Conservative Parties uphold Neoliberal policies.

The Lib Dems remain complicit in the Neoliberal programme (if we consult voting records).

Change UK have done nothing to change the Neoliberal stranglehold on our country, but quietly endorse it.

Greens, SNP and Plaid have never attracted major corporate funding and as such are often fiercely resistant to Neoliberalism.

But where is the Church? If God is characterised by Lovingkindness[xii], then the Church cannot worship him whilst remaining ignorant of or silent about the abusive, oppressive, destructive forces of Neoliberal Capitalism. Voting to oppose the Neoliberal agenda is a first step towards halting this all-encompassing evil before it is too late. More, of course, is required of Christians, but certainly not less.

Why I support the Liberal Democrats

Anonymous

I am deeply concerned about what is happening across the globe at present. Populism is making democracy seem increasingly fragile.[iii] Faced with a global economic crisis, so many of our leaders seem reduced to a state of panic. Right wing extremism is gaining momentum, pushing our right wing parties in the UK further and further towards the right. It is having the same effect on the left: Left wing policies now are pushed further left than most people can even imagine. A drift towards fascism on the right, and Marxism on the left has weakened moderate politics of the centre.

It seems that New Labour is now well and truly dead. This means that the Lib Dems are left alone to defend the centre ground. In a world of disintegration, to ‘hold everything together’ is profoundly Christian (see Col 1:16–17).

This is not to say though, that I am uncritical of the Lib Dems. Part of the reason I support them is that they have always been consistent, clear and simple in their rejection of Brexit. It speaks of their integrity, a quality today’s politicians lack, especially on the right. My main criticism of the Lib Dems though, is their decision to revoke Article 50 if they get into power. (Ignoring what half the country voted at the 2016 Referendum does not bode well for trying to unify the country after an election). Even so, in the unlikely event that the Lib Dems were voted into power, it would be a democratic decision so may justify this position. And this is a decision made with the best of intention for the wellbeing of our country.

Although stopping Brexit is my priority, I believe this is important secondly, for economic reasons as well as to prevent extremism. Remaining in the EU would make us £50 billion bound wealthier and that money could be used to invest in our public services so that the effects of inequality can be effectively tackled.[iv] Thirdly, I think the Lib Dems have a good record and a good plan when it comes to tackling climate change. God’s creation is a gift, and since we have a responsibility to look after it (Gen 1:28; 2:15), voting Lib Dem would help to do exactly that.

I cannot vote for Conservative or Brexit partly because their leaders don’t have any credibility, and partly because their economic policies favour the wealthy over the poor. I cannot vote for Labour, because of the tinges of racism. (I don’t find the accusations of antisemitism being worse than other parties at all convincing, but I don’t want to be in a party that could even be accused of racism). My biggest fear of voting Labour is that their economic policy seems fantastic but undeliverable — and will probably result in the unrest we experienced in the 70s.[v] I have not considered the Green party because although I like their leaders, and trust them, I think they are still too small to make a difference and where I live it would be a wasted vote.

Why I support TIG4Change

David Fleming

When I tell people I support TIG4Change I get a lot of reactions — similar to the reactions I get when people find I am a Christian. Some are surprised the party is still going; others liken me to a supporter of St Jude — the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. I have always been politically active, but like many people I was disillusioned with the main parties. Each of them have policies that I cannot, with integrity, support. In each of them I have detected elements that are hostile to people of faith in a way that made me feel unwelcome. Above all, there was the feeling that they all had a vested interest in maintaining the dysfunctional, established system rather than challenging it or changing it. I felt the system needed a new approach, and all the existent parties seemed to offer was tinkering around the edges.

When in February a group of moderate, pro-remain MPs broke away from Labour and Conservatives to form what became TIG4Change, I was immediately attracted and excited. They seemed to occupy the same middle ground I was drawn to, with a strong emphasis on social justice and drawing people together. But mainly I liked that they did not offer a pre-selected package of policies that you had to sign up to. As a Baptist, I liked the idea that our MPs do not dictate, but rather, policies are being forged as we speak, largely on social media, by a grassroots body of members who bring no preconceptions as to what the “brand” is. Isn’t it more exciting to be at the genesis of something, and feeling that your voice can actually help shape something?

It feels very Baptist! In a recent poll, 75% of people felt the current political system did not work for them. A similar number felt politicians did not care and were only interested in their votes. 60% felt they had no say in what the government does, and voter engagement is steadily declining, year on year. Only a third of people say they are interested in politics. But politics affects the whole of our lives — the education we receive, the care and treatment we get, the environment we enjoy and the housing we live in. It matters.

Movements like TIG4Change offer a chance for people like me to discover a voice and perhaps, in time, shape what happens in councils and Westminster. There have been setbacks. Some MPs have left the party, and progress has been painfully slow at a time when the world is moving fast (come to think about it, that feels like church too!). With the best will in the world, TIG4Change will not be Storming the ramparts of power soon. But it feels like I am part of a mustard seed. And we all know what can happen to a mustard seed.


NOTES

[i]Conservative Manifesto, 2019. p5 https://vote.conservatives.com/our-plan

[ii]More than 4 million people in the UK are trapped in deep poverty, meaning their income is at least 50% below the official breadline, locking them into a weekly struggle to afford the most basic living essentials. 14.3 million in the UK are in poverty, 4.5 million were in deep poverty — a third of all those on the breadline, and 7% of the population. (Social Metrics Commission 2019).

A British Medical Journal report concluded that austerity was at the heart of the rise in rough-sleeping from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017 — although charities believed the true figure was much higher. (https://www.independent.co..uk 2019)

More than 130,000 deaths in the UK since 2012 could have been prevented if improvements in public health policy had not stalled as a direct result of austerity cuts. (Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) 2019)

[iii]William Galston (Apr 2018) ‘The Populist Challenge to Liberal Democracy’ in Journal of Democracy:

https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/the-populist-challenge-to-liberal-democracy/

[iv]https://www.libdems.org.uk/plan

[v]The conclusion drawn by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=jL2_yy96ncU&feature=emb_logo

[vi] E.g., in the EU, Varoufakis cites the outburst of the German Finance Minister at his first Eurogroup meeting: “elections cannot be allowed to change established economic policy.” Similarly in the US, the Democrat Nominee, Hillary Clinton, was recorded expressing her contempt for democracy: “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”

[vii]See (2014) ‘The Truth About Lobbying: 10 Ways Big Business Controls Government’ in The Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/12/lobbying-10-ways-corprations-influence-government

[viii]Provost and Kennard (2015) ‘The Obscure Legal System that lets Corporations sue States’ in The Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/10/obscure-legal-system-lets-corportations-sue-states-ttip-icsid

[ix]See Noam Chomsky (1997), ‘Market Democracy in a Neoliberal Order: Doctrines and Reality’ in Z Magazine.

https://chomsky.info/199711__/

[x]See Ollie McAninch (2019) ‘Jeremy Corbyn is the most smeared politician in history’ in The London Economic.

https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/opinion/jeremy-corbyn-is-the-most-smeared-politician-in-history/18/07/

See also the research conducted by Loughborough University:

https://www.lboro.ac.uk/news-events/general-election/report-1/

See the report on Corbyn produced by London School of Economics:

http://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/research/research-projects/representations-of-jeremy-corbyn

See the research conducted by Birkbeck College, University of London:

http://www.bbk.ac.uk/news/television-and-online-news-biased-in-coverage-of-labour-crisis-report-claims

[xi]This is precisely what I predicted in 2014, ‘…any community, any enterprise, any religion that enables citizens to imagine a genuinely alternative world will find itself closed down by the propaganda or the muscle of the very empire that manufactures belief in freedom of choice.’ (Atheism After Christendom, 2015)

[xii]Lovingkindness (hesed in the OT, eleosin the NT) is predominantly directed towards widows, orphans and refugees. It underlies the Liberationist insight that the God of Scripture is ‘biased towards the poor’. Modern interpreters cannot with legitimacy speak of God’s love whilst bracketing out (or paying only lip service to) the weakest, most vulnerable and voiceless members of society. These folk (the anawim) are the people amongst whom the God of Israel makes himself thoroughly at home.

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