The confession of a lazy but determined voter

Tomorrow morning I’ll head round the corner from my house and enter a community centre I never knew existed. I’ll be on my way to work and probably one of the first to enter. I’ll mark the papers, pop them in the respective boxes and be on my way.

I’ll have cast my vote for the councillors to represent me on Southwark Council and MEPs to do the same in the European Parliament.

I don’t yet know the names of the people I’ll vote for. Not that I’m undecided, just that I know very little about what they’re saying or standing for, or even their names.

There was an election flyer on my kitchen table, and my flatmate was canvassed a couple of weeks ago – and on that grounds alone likely to vote for the party to take that minor amount of effort. I think that flyer found its way to the bin.

If I were to go home tonight and scour the internet for policies and biographical details I would not need the contrition I feel towards my lassitude toward the democratic process. But I’m not, I know how I’m going to vote. I know enough about the parties and their positions on the national level to be frustrated by them all but aligned closest to one. And the names beside that logo will get my vote tomorrow.

Except tomorrow I’m not supposed to be voting on the national policies of parties, but on what they would do on my local council or in the European Parliament. And yet, my confession is not one scarce found among voters heading to the polling booth tomorrow. I would argue it’s the norm.

Most voters are not deciding which candidate gets their support based on a thorough evaluation of the options, or the specifics of the ballot, but on a wider, general, sense of support or disagreement with the parties across the country. Perhaps I do a disservice, there are surely many who do know who is standing and what their vision is; perhaps I misrepresent the population by projecting my ignorance onto others.

And while I am a lazy voter, I am also a determined one. Voting is not something to do lightly, or without thought, but more than that, and regardless of whether we take care, it is something we must do. I would rather the population opted for the party whose logo was in the colour they preferred than stay at home. Voting is too important, even when it seems pointless.

Before the last general election the oft heard cry was that a single vote doesn’t make any difference – the majority is too large, the party I support will never win, my vote will be wasted. But what if everyone took that view? What if everyone opted out?

Politics isn’t a consumer activity where our choice to participate or not is an active decision, and where exit is also a valid option. If we choose not to go to the cinema we are communicating our dissatisfaction, with the choice of films, the price of tickets, the location of the cinema, we are telling the cinema that something is wrong. In politics it doesn’t work like that. If we opt out we let others take the decision, and their decisions affect us all.

It’s why despite everything, despite my frustration with the parties, their leaders, their campaign tactics, their policies, or lack thereof, I vote because I must. And so should you. Because to not would be to let others make your mind up for you. You should also watch the video at the top – best voting video ever.

Also, if you wish to learn a bit more about the European Union and the elections, read this guide.

Where are all the Anglican Tories?


Theos have published a fascinating report analysing the role of religion in voting behaviour and political attitudes. I’ve provided an overview of the main findings elsewhere, and following a briefing last week when I, along with others, got the chance to question the authors I’ve now consumed the full report.

The headlines of the report are that Anglicans are more likely to back the Conservative Party and Catholics support Labour, minority religions generally vote Labour except for Jews who support the Conservatives and Buddhists who back the Liberal Democrats.

Firstly, this is a report full of really interesting data and there are literally hundreds of findings worth pulling out, weighing and considering. Secondly, there is a lot the report doesn’t do. Repeatedly during the briefing Nick Spencer and Ben Clements, who wrote the report, had to apologise that they didn’t have the answers to the plethora of fascinating supplementary questions many wanted answering. Thirdly, this is not a report that considers causality, it doesn’t tell you why someone voted one way or an other, or why they might take a particular view on welfare, censorship or the death penalty.

What it does provide is an indication of association, so for example, among the most interesting findings is that attendance at services matters a lot, but even if you don’t attend it matters what label you give yourself. Those who nominally hold a religious identity (any) but never attend services are likely to be more authoritarian in their outlook than any other group. Likewise, those who do attend services are likely to be more proud of the welfare state and support higher benefits even if their taxes go up.

There are findings that are surprising and those that are patently obvious. The look on an Anglican official’s face when the graph showing support for the death penalty revealed as Anglicans consistently the most supportive was priceless. When the data is subject to more detailed scrutiny it sometimes allows our shock to recede, as in this case where nominal Anglicans distort the figure with their high support while frequent attenders are much less likely to back capital punishment. On other occasions it reinforces the picture presented at first sight. For example, the support for the Conservative Party among Anglicans is not undermined when it is looked at by age groups, 42 per cent of voters under 30 voted Conservative and only 26 per cent Labour.

Other findings that are understandable but surprising all the same include the very high level of support for the Labour party among minority ethnic groups. In 2005 the lowest supporting group were Hindus with 68 per cent, and all though this dropped to 49 per cent in 2010 all other groups still exhibited high levels of support with over four out of five black Pentecostal Christians supporting Labour.

What struck me with greatest force when the report was released was not any of these findings, it was not the very small number of Christians who considered morals or a lack of family values as the most important issue at the 2010 election. Instead it was the reaction to the findings, and in particular the idea that Anglicans tend to support the Conservative party.

There was a wave of astonishment across twitter, ‘what!’ they cried, ‘that can’t be true, I’m a Christian and I vote Labour. And so do all my friends’. Of course the immediate response is that in the Anglican church there are many who voted for the Labour and Liberal Democrats, as too are there Catholics who voted Tory (especially those over 65). The second response is to wonder why this provoked such a shock.

Is it because the Church of England, and particularly through their Bishops in the House of Lords and their public statements make it seem that the official position of the church is on the left of politics? Is it the echo of dissent from Margaret Thatcher’s policies of the 1980s heard through those now in lofty positions detached from the views of the congregations in their pews? Is there actually a silent majority of right wing Anglicans failed by their leadership?

The support for welfare policies among those who attend frequently paints a more complex picture, and the individual statements which are used to plot the position a group on the three axes (left-right, libertarian-authoritarian and welfarist-individualist) also support this more complex picture but Anglicans still often come out with what would be considered positions more aligned with the Conservatives.

The report doesn’t provide evidence for the Conservative party to target their next election at the Church of England to lock up their chances of election. The support is simply not that significant, there are still plenty who vote otherwise. But perhaps it is slightly more salutary sign to the church to listen a little harder to what the views of their congregations are.

One aspect of this debate over political affiliation of Christians has struck me recently and been reinforced by the response to this report, why do left wing Christians feel more able to be public about their views while right wing Christians keep quiet? Could it be a response to the reputation of Republican Christians in the States, and a fear that if they come out as Conservatives they will be branded likewise? Is their a norm of acceptable views among Christians that leave some feeling as though their support for one political party is something they should hide?

These are only questions, but the silence of Christians on the right and the protest from those on the left was the most notable feature of this report’s publication. With a General Election a little over a year away Christians will be thinking more and more about politics, and across the church there needs to be a space for Christians to explore how they will vote and consider the way their faith impacts their politics. It’s a task for the church to set itself to, it’s a task that requires maturity and respect for a range of political opinions. And a task that requires sight on the bigger vision of a kingdom.

Light, darkness and the ballot box

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.

Why I don’t think Christian political parties are the best option

This week the God and Politics blog ran an interview with Malcolm Martin, the lead candidate for the London Assembly elections for the Christian People’s Alliance. At the time I was inclined to respond but decided against it as I didn’t want to get drawn into a political debate, and I didn’t want to be seen as casting judgement on another Christian engaging in politics – something I am passionate to see more of. Then this evening came a bit of a discussion (not really a spat as I originally wrote) on twitter about the relative validity of the Christian People’s Alliance and whether Christians should vote for them.

So being unable to express in 140 characters some nuanced thoughts, here comes a quick fire summary of why I don’t think that Christian parties are the best way for Christians to engage in politics.

Firstly, a caveat, I think people should vote for who they support and would like to see in government. That means that for some people the candidates running under a Christian ticket may well be the best candidate for them. Gillan Scott, who’s set up and quickly established the God and Politics blog as a go to destination, has taken a bit of flack for running the interview, which is perhaps a little unfair, I think like everyone the Christian People’s Alliance have a voice that deserves to be heard. Occasionally I speak to churches about political engagement, almost invariably I will be asked a question about whether Christians should vote for Christian political parties, this is more or less what I say.


I do not believe that there should be any suggestion that for Christians the best party to support is the party with Christian in the name.

And this is why:

  1. Pragmatic.

The two Christian parties that operate in the UK, the Christians People’s Alliance and the Christian Party are both very small in terms of the votes they garner and the seats in which they stand. This means that it is highly unlikely that they will be in a position to win seats, and even were they to, to influence political decisions.

  1. Political

This should not, in and of itself, be a reason not to vote for a party, often key voices come from the margin, and people not in the centre of decision making are able to take a view counter to the political mainstream. However, politics is about programmes and about delivering on these programmes. Therefore there needs to be an ability to do more than protests about problems with the current system. Fringe political parties, and by their electoral results the CPA and CP can both fairly be defined as such, are little more than pressure groups, and when I cast a vote I am voting for someone to govern not for someone to issue press releases.

  1. Philosophical

There are two Christian political parties. This should be enough to demonstrate that Christians don’t agree on political issues, the CPA are more centrist and the CP are more right wing. All of the political parties contain things in their platform that I disagree with. If I wanted a party where I agreed with everything it would have a membership of one: me. If we are to engage in the political process then we have to accept that disagreeing with things that a political party says is not a barrier to engagement. And if we want to see political parties stand for things that are closer to what we believe, then it is more vital than ever that we engage in them and advocate for those policies we wish to see.

  1. Theological

I wanted to find another ‘p’ to say this but my brain was struggling. This is the reason why in the end I don’t think that Christian political parties are the best choice for Christians, that’s over and above the other reasons outlined above, which in the right circumstances could all be ameliorated.

The idea and operation of Christian parties promotes an approach that verges on theocracy. It suggests that as Christians we will rule the country in a Christian way, and in a way that only Christians can. I am aware that those involved in the parties mentioned would dispute this.

But we live in a country where many people are not Christian, and to govern through parties that are identified as Christian with an explicitly Christian programme would suggest that we are seeking to introduce a political programme that is actually the enforcement of religious belief.

I don’t think that Christians have all the answers. I think that in the end, God’s Kingdom will come, and in the meantime God works through us to bring that Kingdom into our world a little bit at a time. But there are good ideas and aspects of that greater good that comes from sources outside the church. It is important that we recognise this. Politics is about making things work, for Christians it is about accepting that while overall authority lies with God he gives us a mandate to act on that authority.

The gospel is also about freedom, it is the thing that brings true freedom and it sustains freedom. The gospel is about the choice to follow God, and any attempt to legislate for religious belief, or even to try and enforce morality through the legal system will not only engender hostility towards Christianity, it is simply not the way that the gospel works.


In summary, Christians, like all people should vote how they wish, and in the Mayoral elections that may mean voting for the Christian People’s Alliance, but as someone passionately committed to seeing more Christians engaging in politics, and making a difference in the political sphere, it is not the route that I would advocate. I would suggest joining one of the mainstream parties, which ever one comes closest to you views. I would suggest getting involved, putting in the hard work, and seeing how, we can not only speak what we believe, but live it and see others changed by how we live and what we support. For more information I’d recommend the Christians in Politics website.