By Guy Brandon, 30 March 2015
Today, Prime Minister David Cameron takes the trip to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament, firing the starting gun on a six-week election campaign you could be forgiven for thinking started six months ago. The government will remain in place but as of today there will be no MPs, only candidates, and no major policy decisions – just a holding pattern of administrative processes that will be maintained until the outcome of the election is clear.
‘It’ll be a mess’
Clarity, along with its derivative asset confidence, is a commodity that is in short supply at the moment. In terms of the government we end up with, the field is wider than ever before. In 2005 it was a straight choice between the Conservatives and Labour. Last election the battleground widened to include the Lib Dems, and the UK experienced its first full coalition in 70 years. Today, the leaders of those three parties must be looking back at that election with a sense of nostalgia and bewilderment. Thursday’s seven-way ITV debate illustrates the issue well. Alongside Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the Green’s Natalie Bennett, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood will be represented, in what critics already assume will be an unproductive free-for-all that does little, if anything, to showcase what the different parties can offer the electorate.
As the Guardian warns, ‘It’ll be a disjointed, incoherent cacophony, simultaneously turning off the voters and belittling the politicians, reducing them to seven dwarves behind lecterns… It’ll be a mess. It’ll address half a dozen subjects at once. The combatants will be speaking at cross-purposes. Which is why it’ll be a perfect reflection of the state of British politics in 2015.’
Nationally, the outcome is entirely uncertain. Neither of the largest parties has a clear lead in the polls. Indeed, it would appear that neither is close to winning a majority, or even winning enough seats to form a coalition or confidence-and-supply arrangement with one of the minor parties. At the same time, many individual constituencies are regarded as safe seats, where the outcome of the election is practically a foregone conclusion. The result is that many voters will not bother to make the trip to the polling station, either because they don’t know which way to vote or because they recognise their ballot will make no difference anyway.
Dealing with uncertainty
So, how might we deal with the uncertainty and powerlessness that these political dramas raise?
Firstly, by remembering that politics is about much more than elections. The election will determine the shape and colour of the next government, not the fate of the country for the next five years (or even five months, should we find ourselves back at the polls before the end of the full term). That job doesn’t belong to politicians alone; it’s one for all of us. As the Show Up Campaign and our own book Votewise 2015 highlight, we cannot reduce our political engagement to a few seconds at the ballot box. As Christians, we are intensely political creatures, voting for change with every decision, every purchase, every engagement with others.
Secondly, where do we pin our hopes? On the next government, who will be in power a maximum of five years? On the economy, which will rise and fall on events at home and across the globe, many of which are completely beyond our control? Or will we choose to ‘fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’? (2 Corinthians 4:18)