My friend and fellow minister, Gareth, blogged this morning asking, “How to know what to say on the morning after a General Election? How to know what to say when the result was anything but what you expected, or wanted? How to know what to say when you don’t know what you think?”
Time, he said, quoting the Book of Proverbs, to sit with wisdom, to think and pray and then to act.
I’m with Gareth. There is a lot of thinking to be done, and a lot of thinking will be done by parties left without leaders or newly empowered by victory as well as by individuals and families, communities, businesses, charities and public services who will wonder what lies ahead for them.
For the moment, my immediate thoughts include a thank you to all those who were prepared to stand, to put their views before the electorate. I have done that and I suspect politicians are held in even less regard now than we were then. It’s not always an easy road to take. So thank you, even if I don’t agree with you. Commiserations, too, to those who were disappointed that they were not elected or re-elected. Best wishes also to the new government, and to the parliament that must hold it to account. A particular mention to Mhairi Black, the SNP MP who, at twenty, is the youngest MP to be elected since, I think, the 17th century. Good luck to you, Marie, and thank you for being brave enough to put yourself forward for election. A thought to, for those who, having lost their seats will now have to cope with changed circumstances. I know that few if none will have to face penury, but they are people and they have feelings and rejection can hurt.
But, my thoughts have gone wider than these immediate ones, and I will doubtless flesh them out as we move further into this new government. The direction of that thinking is hinted at in a comment I tweeted early this morning: “Time to re-establish a politics of compassion and inclusivity, to allow people to believe that we’re better than the money and me first mantra.”
It seems to me that a division is growing between, on the one hand, a corporate and media world that has largely ensured the election of this government and, on the other, the greater part of our population. Be that as it may, it also seems to me that many of us on that “other” hand have bought into the idea that, pace another Tory leader, “there is no such thing as society,” that I, or by extension my family, have to come first and probably last, and that the pursuit of wealth and material goods is the best end of human endeavour. Such an idea may suit those who wish us to be but consumers of material goods with barely a thought for neighbour or planet as long as we continue to stuff the corporate maw and to enrich those who have grown fatter still over these last five years while millions have had to tighten already tight belts still further and live with the daily uncertainty of financial and emotional instability. However, I cannot see that such selfishness is, in the long term, either sustainable or good for the health of human society or the planet. We must find a way again of expressing and acting for the “common good” and find a way to involve as wide a public as possible in that search.
So, when I speak of a reframing of politics towards compassion and inclusivity, I do mean for all. I mean the wealth creators and those whose circumstances mean their potential to earn or pay their way is limited or removed entirely. I mean the indigenous and the newcomers. I mean young and old, straight or gay, male or female and everyone who falls in between the polarities by which we choose so often to describe each other, polarities that mean we are too often either part of those that are in, or those that are out; polarities that exclude as well as include. We are all in this together and we need to recognise that; and to recognise and make concrete in the machinery and structure of our political life our responsibilities towards each other.
A time for action must follow our thinking and praying, says Gareth, and I agree. But while we think let us ensure that we hear not only the clamour of the media savvy, the powerful, the sleek and the “successful” but also those whose voices are rarely heard where decisions are made, whose lives are little understood by those who have never had to live them but who may yet be creative, entrepreneurial, “successful” even if in different ways.
And when, then, arising from our thinking, we speak or act, let us speak first for them, and act first for them. This is for me an expression of what I see as a divine bias towards the poor as expressed well in Luke’s counterpointing of blessings and woes below. Others will agree with me without recourse to a faith based vision (others will doubtless disagree!) but for those without faith (and even those who have it but do not share my political understanding of it) this need be no more than a matter of enlightened self-interest: in the end, there can be no peace where there is no justice. And where there is no peace, even those who feel comfortable now, however gated their communities, however, full their tables, however secure their finances, must come at last, as Luke has it, to woe, to calamity, to disaster.
Luke 6: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. … But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”
Post Script: apologies to Mhairi Black whose name I misspelled in the original, and another correction: she’s the youngest MP since the 17th not, as I first wrote, the 19th centrury .