Today is polling day. I voted at a few minutes after 7 and I wasn’t the first: a couple of people trudged through the room in the local Methodist church ahead of me. Outside in the rain stood a Lib Dem teller with her clipboard, she didn’t ask for my poll card number as I lifted my hood as a shield to the elements. I hadn’t been canvassed by the Lib Dems so I’m not sure what good my information would have done on the telling tallies.
I voted because I think voting matters. I voted because I care about who runs my city as I care who runs the country. I voted because as a Christian I believe that we should take responsibility for the world around us and that means making difficult choices about what needs to be done. Last night I wrote in haste about the place of Christian political parties. If you read that it will not surprise you that as my pencil lingered for a moment above the paper awaiting my crosses it was not drawn towards the Christian People’s Alliance.
But my vote was not an automatic one. For I had not been impressed with any of the campaigns in London. Added to this, the dynamic of a supplementary vote system was new to me, voting for one of the top two candidates with your first vote renders your second pointless, so I was tempted to give my first choice to a candidates that wouldn’t normally attract my support. Peter Ould has written this morning that social conservatives should withhold their vote from the Conservative Party to send a message that they won’t be taken for granted.
What I picked up from his post was that we’re too easily taken for a ride. We hear the politicians fawning over every target group, offering special targeted messages and focus group tested policies. We hear the Bible verses quoted and the laudable things said about how integral Christians are to society. And then we are surprised when the politicians turn the other way once in office.
If our political engagement is only about extracting a promise from candidates and political parties at election time then we are asking to be used and abused. It is almost as though we want politicians to promise us the earth. If politicians only make promises as a factor in electoral calculations they will be willing to ditch them if the algebra changes.
So the answer is to vote for the party that mostly closely reflects your values, and then see how you can get involved to influence those values and the policies that arise from them. My fear for politics is that too often the value that overrules the others is the desire to get elected and whim and whimsy too often come to the fore. But like all areas of life where problems exist, they will not be solved by staying on the sidelines and becoming experts at what’s wrong.
I think for some people who usually vote Conservative, now might be a good time to send a signal that you won’t be taken for granted. But don’t just do that through the ballot box, don’t abstain because that is abdicating responsibility, and don’t vote for a party you like even less because that’s just spiteful.
If politics is a place too shrouded in darkness then we have to be the ones who will bring the light.