Democracy is a funny thing. Whilst we might hold it up as an undeniable virtue, what actually constitutes a democracy is still wide open for discussion. According to the Economist’s “Intelligence Unit” 2014 Democracy index, the UK narrowly avoids being lumped with other nearly-rans as a “flawed democracy”. Admittedly, we’re not in the same league as North Korea or CAR, and the last decade has seen improvement, but we’ve still got some work to do to reach Norway’s near perfect 9.93 out of 10.
So… just a few more days, and it’ll be time to vote. Still stuck as to who to vote for? Does it matter anyway? Russell Brand isn’t standing, but maybe you’re one of his 10 million (!!) followers and prefer not to vote at all. (Personally, I’d recommend a spoiled or blank vote as a better means of registering a protest, if that’s what you want to do.)
Whatever the potential flaws of our particular voting system (see the Election Reform Society’s take on the potential results in Scotland, for example) or how self-seeking politicians may or may not be, democracy stands or falls on participation. Thoughtful voting takes a modicum of effort on our part – but without an engaged electorate, democracy is a non-starter. I like Paul Bayes’ (bishop of Liverpool) recent words:
“My responsibility is not to moan, but to vote. To vote, and to work for the common good. My responsibility is to vote for, and work with, those with the moral vision and courage to work for a better society.”
Voting does not equate with uncritical acceptance of the political status quo or approval of unscrupulous politicians’ determination to hold on to power at all costs. Bishop Paul continues:
“Do I have deep enough reasons for voting? Or am I – are we all – being steam rollered into casting my vote for parties and politicians caught up in a system that promotes self–interest over the common good? […] I’m sick of the partisan politics of self-interest. I seek proper thoughtful politics that asks searching questions as together we build a better society. Society is divided and modern politics divisive. We see groups demonised and stereotyped – benefit scroungers, bankers, immigrants, asylum seekers – and in this atmosphere of easily cultivated hatred the poor and the vulnerable become voiceless and victimised.”
Voting is part of our commitment to building a better world, using the tools we have available to us.
I am not about to tell you how you should vote – political opinions are not contiguous with faith – but would offer you Bishop Paul’s three questions to help you decide. These are “questions that speak of a society where the least and lost are supported, the poor looked after, the victims given a voice and the marginalised cared for.”
1. “Will your candidate be putting the common good, and especially the interests of the poor and the marginal, at the heart of your policies?”
2. “Will your candidate work with churches, faith communities and all people of good will to shape a society where all can flourish and where the stronger will readily and gladly help the weaker?”
3. “Will you be striving to fashion a healthcare and welfare system that treats each needy individual with respect and honour as a priceless, significant person (made as we would say in the image of God)?”
You may well have other concerns and priorities that will dictate your choices. But for those who are still undecided, I trust these questions will give you enough to go on.
(See http://www.liverpool.anglican.org/Voting-for-a-new-moral-vision for the full context of the quotes used. And see the full Economist Intelligence Unit 2014 Democracy Index if you are interested in a global picture of democracy.)