Regular readers of my blog will not be surprised at my political leanings, forged years ago in the 1980s on Teesside where I witnessed first hand the political decisions and economic policies that destroyed communities, damaged people’s lives and accelerated and endorsed greed and selfish consumerism. Seeing the film Brassed Off again recently brought the memories of those dark days in the 1980’s.
When you’ve lived and worked in an area that was ravaged by unemployment, (from 11% to over 50% in four years on one of the estates), seen the consequences of government policies result in an increase mental health issues, family breakdowns, domestic violence, crime, alcohol and drug dependency and a loss of hope and aspiration, you cannot, if you claim to be a follower of Christ, turn a blind eye. When people suffer injustice, where the poor are neglected and others, often through lack of opportunity, or who’ve been born “on the wrong side of the tracks”, are marginalised, no true disciple of Christ can remain silent.
I have written previously about the dangerous rise of popularism and the frightening consequences of people like Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin who have carefully and skilfully exploited the masses and exercised a malevolent influence in the world. Thank God that much of mainland Europe have seen the error and dangers of populism and the renaissance of nationalism in Britain and the States and have begun to reverse the tide that threatens to undermine civic society and sow the seeds of conflict and war between nations. Thank God for the Dutch, French and the Germans who have decided that hope not fear, cooperation and collaboration not contesting and isolation, will determine their political and economic policies. The political naivete, arrogance and damaging consequences of last year’s Referendum and the incredulous hardline that is being taken by the present government is poor and damaging our relationship with our European neighbours. What are the values that are driving such combative language?
And it’s that which brings me to thinking about the manifestos for the own General Election here in Britain. I took part in the survey recently where you had to answer a whole series of questions about what you would do, what attitudes you had to certain issues and the actions you would take in response to a number of situations. The answers were then formulated to reveal which political party you were more naturally aligned to. Apparently, according to the survey, I should be voting for Plaid Cymru, the only problem being that they are not putting up a candidate in North Northumberland!
I am a member of the Labour Party and seriously considered not continuing my annual subscription. I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the present leadership of the party and particularly in some of the people who are surrounding its leader. But, just because things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped, it’s no reason to abandon ship so I am hanging in there. In the same way, Middlesbrough’s abysmal season in the Premiership and subsequent relegation does not mean that I no longer support them.
But when it comes to values, more than any other political party leader, I do believe that Jeremy Corbyn lives what he believes. That he is a man of principle and he has lived consistently with those values throughout his political life. He has been a champion of the poor, has consistently represented and spoken out on behalf of those who are marginalised, has been a dedicated envoy for peace and reconciliation, for cooperation and solidarity with other nations. He has refused to follow the party line when his own party’s policies have contravened his values. His consistent opposition to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, have to my mind, shown strength of character and commitment to the values that he lives by.
Far from being weak, he has been strong on so many of the issues that matter to a civil society. He is a different kind of politician and I would contend, lives what he believes. I want a Prime Minister who thinks deeply about the implications of possessing a nuclear deterrent, who is prepared to speak to opponents, even enemies in the pursuit of peace and justice. I like the idea of having a Prime Minister, who lives simply, who didn’t go and do PPE at Oxford, (Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite and so many of our current political leaders who I believe have become an out-of-touch ruling class. A privileged class who make the right connections and climb the ambitious political career ladder who will then retire and sit on the boards of several lucrative corporations. In contrast, Corbyn is someone who is in politics because he has witnessed poverty, injustice, exploitation and seen the need to make a difference. Someone who left school and went to serve others with the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). I like the idea of a politician who lives in a very modest house, grows vegetables on his allotment and makes his own jam. As a leader of the Opposition, he has been disappointing. He has missed opportunities and is clearly not a great organisational or strategic leader. Despite these traits, he is not a weak or unstable leader. On the contrary, he is a man of strength and integrity. His team have not been great at handling the media and managing his public image. This has certainly not helped his or the Labour Party’s cause but there is something within me that admires somebody who disregards the notion that the medium is the message and who possesses a disdain for spin and manipulative propaganda. There is something refreshing about a politician who says things and commits to things that they really believe in? And there is no doubt that wherever he goes he is very popular and draws huge crowds.
Tonight on Tyneside, in the pouring rain, thousands of people have waited to hear him. Whatever the outcome of the election he has had a good campaign and got people talking about the things that matter; the kind of society we want to live in, the values that matter.
The attacks on his character reveal more about Lyndon Crosby, the man masterminding the Conservative party’s campaign strategy. He has been successfully employed by political parties all over the world and has been described as a “master of the dark political arts”. He knows that you influence the masses by appealing, not to reason but emotions. Persuade through reason but motivate and determine through emotion. If you can’t connect with peoples’ emotions you can’t win. You have to be able to trigger an emotional response from people to win their votes. Portray Corbyn as weak and you appeal not to peoples reasoning, (how many people know what Jeremy Corbyn really stands for?) but to their feelings. Keep preparing the ground prior to the election by casting doubts on his character and portray him as weak and when the campaign is launched immediately counter it with the carpet bombing strategy, ‘Strong and stable leadership’.
The last Prime Minister’s Question time saw sycophantic Government MP’s preface every question to their leader with the phrase. Crosby had given the ammunition, Teresa May and her Chief Whips had issued the orders and each one fired the phrase with sickening regularity. So why was it used? Well Crosby knows that brute repetition works, that by deploying bland, vapid slogans over rational arguments people’s emotions are taken in. The lies on the Brexit bus about the money the NHS would receive if we left the EU worked! So many people were captured not by the truth and reasoned arguments but how they felt. It was appalling that some of the Leave campaign messages appealed to those elements of nationalism and racism that won people over. In the same way some of the Remain campaign tried to use fear to win over voters to their position. Such manipulation of feelings allows a post-truth society to flourish and seriously undermines democracy.
What is going on under the surface of British politics is very disturbing and those who understand the dark arts of persuasion are capitalising on a relatively unthinking or superficial and poor reasoning of the general public.
So, back to the manifestos. I’d rather have one that is put together by people who actually stand for something, (even if I don’t agree with everything they propose) than those whose goal is solely to achieve power. Jeremy Corbyn may be naive but he will not substitute principle for power. He has been consistent throughout his political career and has not changed his values or convictions since becoming the leader of the party. You may disagree with him but of all the leaders in this election, he and Carolyn Lucas of the Green Party, to my mind, are the most transparent about what they stand for and what they would do if elected Prime Minister.
The likelihood of Corbyn being our next Prime Minister is very remote. Nevertheless, he will get my support. I will vote for someone whose party’s policies offer the greatest hope not only for Britain but for the wider world. Someone who will seek diplomacy, negotiation and international cooperation in the efforts to resolve conflicts and wars scarring the world. Someone who would only go to war as a last resort. Someone who is prepared to build bridges not walls between people and nations. A leader who is more aware of the needs, concerns and plight of ordinary people than most. A party leader who is willing to discuss, debate and talk with anyone. Someone who leads a party that was formed in 1900 to represent the interests of everybody in society. A party that after the Second World War wanted to end austerity, remove the cloud of the economic depression that had cast its shadow over Europe in the 1930s and contributed to the Second World War. After that terrible war, Labour was swept into power and founded the National Health Service and a cradle to the grave welfare state. A party that introduced the nationalisation of transportation and public utilities. A party that was committed to building better relationships with its European neighbours and playing its part in seeking to build a better world for all its citizens. A party that recognised that the days of the Empire, the British Raj were over and that it was time for us as a nation to rethink what Britain in a changing world could offer. A party that would not turn its back today on the plight of refugees nor renege as the present Government has done on its commitment to taking 2,000 child refugees. A party that will seek to end the hideous and growing gap between the rich and poor, that will endeavour to redistribute wealth to serve the many and not the few.
It’s a party, for all its weaknesses, that will get my vote because I believe its principles more closely reflect the values of the Kingdom of God and serve the common good for everyone, the many, not the few in society.
As George Monbiet said recently, I would love to elect a government on June 8 led by someone both competent and humane, but this option will not be on the ballot paper. The choice today is between brutal efficiency in pursuit of a disastrous agenda and gentle inefficiency in pursuit of a better world…. The choice before us is as follows: a party that, through strong leadership and iron discipline, allows three million children to go hungry while hedge fund bosses stash their money in the Caribbean, and a party that hopes, however untidily, to make this a kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation. I know which I favour.
In concluding, I had the privilege on Saturday to preach at an induction service where during the worship we sang the Rend Collective song which included the verse:
Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
I pray and will be voting with the hope that God’s kingdom will be served and that the darkness, that has enveloped places like Manchester and London in recent weeks, will be pushed back; that hope not fear, love not hate will bring healing to our streets and land and that we might discover a gentler and different way of doing politics and living as a society that serves to change the atmosphere.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer and build your kingdom here.