by Felicity Leeson, guest blogger
Whether you agree or disagree with UKIP, you likely recognise that their success in the recent European elections points to some broader underlying issues. But what is it that strikes a chord with disillusioned voters, and what are the origins of these problems?
I’d like to suggest the first issue is centralisation of power to Brussels – the problem that politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels are making decisions for Europe that do not favour nor address the local needs of British people. The initial and arguably laudable aim of providing overarching fairness and accountability across EU nation states has been rendered less attractive by the loss of power that has resulted. It’s the same frustration that people feel when they donate money to a large charity but don’t see where that money goes at the grassroots level. People want representatives who know their local needs; they want the option of engaging with the political process more than once every five years. People are feeling like they are haemorrhaging control and UKIP seems to be the best plaster around at the moment.
Tony Blair has summed this up with his comment that, ‘The victories of UKIP in the UK and the National Front in France and the election of parties across the continent on explicitly “anti-the-status-quo-in-Europe” platforms signify something... deep anxiety, distrust and alienation from the institutions and key philosophy of Europe.’ David Cameron has made the need to renegotiate our relationship with Europe, along with a referendum on membership, a major strand of his re-election campaign.
The opposite of centralisation is the devolution of power to the lowest level possible, an idea called ‘subsidiarity’ found in Catholic Social Teaching. What we really want is localisation of power so we can engage in issues of justice and government on our doorstep, with representatives who are present and engaged.
Unsurprisingly, a form of subsidiarity was God’s initial plan as outlined for Israel in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Issues of government and justice were dealt with at the lowest level possible. Individuals knew the Law and if they acted in defiance of it, the first port of call to rectify the situation would be the extended family unit, not the Local Magistrate’s Court, as it would be today. As the severity of the issue increased, the higher (more centralised) the authority required to deal with it. The result was a high degree of community engagement.
The second issue is that of immigration. Although we don’t say it for fear of sounding racist, some of us are afraid of losing our jobs to foreigners and are afraid of our increasingly open borders. When UKIP (or the Front National in France) gives voice to these fears, we are inclined to agree. But are these fears well founded? In reality, the number of immigrants is much lower than most of us think and (contrary to popular opinion) most immigrants are here legally. Many are doing jobs that we wouldn’t be applying for anyway, because they earn more on minimum wage here than doing a qualified job in their own countries.
On the other hand, communities do exist in some cities that do not want to integrate into British life. Where is the balance in all of this, and what does the Bible say about immigration?
A biblical view of immigration
We are to remember that we are ‘aliens and sojourners’ ourselves in this world (1 Peter 2:11). God cares for the outcast and marginalised and we are to have compassion on those who need refuge. In Israelite society, however, a difference was marked between a nokri, a foreigner who did not want or need to integrate, and a ger who did integrate and was granted the rights of an Israelite and treated in the same way. Ultimately, the question came down to where their allegiance lay: Israel, or another country.
In applying this today, one problem is understanding what ‘integration’ means. As we step further and further away from our originally Judaeo-Christian values and become more and more pluralistic we are finding it harder to define what being ‘British’ means. We need to be open to diversity whilst laying down the boundaries to be respected, for example expecting immigrants to learn the language in order to integrate better (for their benefit, as well as ours) and expecting them to submit to our laws rather than attempting to change them so that the majority have to adjust to the needs of an immigrant minority.
In the cases of both centralisation of power to Brussels and immigration policy, people feel that they are not in control of their own circumstances. None of the major parties appears to offer any answers.
In assessing the different political responses to the issues raised, we might start by asking a series of questions. Where is the subsidiarity? Does this or that policy engage people in the things that matter most to them? Does it balance the needs of the individual (native or otherwise) with the needs of the community and society as a whole? Lastly, the command to love both God and neighbour also raises the uncomfortable (and, in this case, particularly complex) question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’