The election is hotting up. It seems more people are interested than in any election for ages, which is a good thing. So much seems to be up for grabs, above and beyond which party (or parties) gets to lead for the next 4 years.
It seems to me that one of the chief questions to ask is "what is government for?" A version of this question is regularly trotted out in the debate about whether the State should be large or small, and the argument is in the forefront this time around as well. But there is another debate going on - in my view a more important one - which is, in what areas is it appropriate for a government to try to define or impose value systems (especially moral value systems) on those it governs, as opposed to trying to serve the values of its citizens - varied though those values may be. In my view Sir Humphrey Appleby had it right. When asked by Jim Hacker "if government isn't about morality, what is it about?" he replied "Government isn't about morality, it is about stability."
Consider for a moment the following statements:
- Asked by leading gay magazine Attitude whether the lib dems would make it a legal requirement for all schools, including faith schools, to teach that homosexuality is "normal and harmless" Nick Clegg said yes
- Commenting on Conservative candidate for Sutton and Cheam, Philippa Stroud, whose church prays for people struggling with same sex attraction (and other matters, one assumes!), Ben Summerskill (chief executive of Stonewall) recently said in the Guardian "It would be highly regrettable if someone who continued to hold these views held any significant office in government."
Now forget for a moment that both these statements - and the matters they respond to - are about matters of sexuality. They are also about something else, something far more important - democracy and democratic process. Neither comment particularly offends me as a Christian because I don't expect everyone to agree with me. But both offend me as a supporter of plural liberal democracy, freedom of speech and as a voting citizen. Both men cannot fail to know that large numbers of voters agree with neither proposition. It seems the views of those voters are deemed either irrelevant or worthy only to be disdained and ignored - and legislated against.
If "democracy" means anything then it is having a table where competing views are heard. We do not disdain our opponents. "Community" means working out how to live and work alongside those with whom we disagree on some things. Having different views is the reason that the House of Commons and House of Lords are debating chambers.
These comments are attempts to disenfranchise a very large number of people from participatory democracy. To disqualify views from the debate. To only allow one voice to be heard. The comments are anti-plural and anti-democratic. This is simply not how things should be done in a democracy. We should never hear them from our governing party. In a democracy we hear our opponents out and win public support by validity of argument. Only in dictatorships are the views of large numbers deliberately, legislatively, removed from the record and the public square. Adrian Warnock makes a case that a vote for Labour in this election is a vote for increased persecution against Christians. I find his case compelling. Have a read here.
I am (with sadness) changing my life-long voting habits in this election. In some sense there are deal-breakers for me with all of the major parties, as well as things to commend. However not voting is not an option I am prepared to consider, so I will vote for the party I think will protect (or do least harm) to crucial democratic freedoms: freedom of conscience, freedom of dissent, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom for parents to teach morality to their children rather than State-morality being imposed on the individual. Presenting issues such as the economy are very important, but not as important as these fundamental building blocks of our society.