The news of a snap General Election came as a surprise to just about everyone, apparently including most government ministers, though more cynical readers might think it was a long-planned exercise. Having insisted there would be no election until 2020, Theresa May stated that she wanted to secure her mandate for Brexit, now that Article 50 has been triggered but before detailed negotiations have begun. At present, the Conservatives’ slim majority and divided approach to Europe mean that the process of leaving the EU would likely be beset with delays and complications.
Not a very ‘general’ election
In a General Election parties necessarily cover a wide range of issues as they seek to attract voters.
However, in the wake of a hugely controversial and divisive referendum, this election will inevitably be seen as a way to validate – or otherwise – the country’s decision to leave the EU, and specifically Theresa May’s realisation of that decision in the form of ‘Hard’ Brexit. Whatever promises are made in the parties’ hastily-drafted manifestos, all will pale into insignificance in comparison to their approach to that. It is a single-issue vote.
This makes it a General Election unlike any other, since suddenly party lines take a back seat. There are Conservatives who are pro-Remain and Labour MPs who are pro-Leave. Those Remainers who accept the Leave vote have strong opinions about the relationship that Britain should have with the EU, particularly in terms of freedom of movement.
In every other election, people vote for their local MP with an eye on the big picture: which party they want to be in power overall. This time around, the big picture is different. The ultimate choice is not Conservative/Labour, or for any single party. It is essentially Hard Brexit/Alternative – where the alternative in question has yet to be decided or fully articulated. That raises the issue of tactical voting, of choosing an unwanted MP because he or she might help make up the numbers in parliament required to bring about a desired outcome. Does the Bible have anything to say about this unprecedented situation?
First and foremost, Christian voters must remember that God is sovereign – not Brussels, and not the UK government. Whatever the outcome, there is a broader narrative at work in British and world history.
Secondly, political engagement is about far more than voting. The biblical view of government was not one of top-down decision-making. It was about people being empowered to act at every level of society. The more the state tries to do, the less citizens feel the need to do. The antidote is to work actively to make the kind of society we want to live in, whatever colour(s) of government we end up with.
Finally, there may still be choices of candidate. If we are choosing between two candidates with the same approach to Brexit, there will be many other concerns to take into account, not least their approach to social justice. Whatever the outcome of the election, and whatever horse-trading goes on afterwards, we have a responsibility to try to choose well, and to hold those elected to account.