Tag Archives: left wing politics

Opinion regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to lead the Labour party

By stopwar.org.uk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By stopwar.org.uk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It has been with some interest that I have viewed, as an outsider, the Labour leadership contest. One name has been spoken of far more than any other: Jeremy Corbyn. It seems quite possible, as is often the way by self-fulfilling prophetic medium that is the media, the attention paid to him may result in the success of his leadership bid.

Because the media has, under the direction of a small number of men, moved to the political right, that which is reasonable and formerly regarded as “centrist” is now called ‘the left’, often with a pejorative overtone. After all, how often do we hear of politicians or political commentators being introduced as ‘right wing’? The reason they’re not is that it is the assumed position. It is only those who differ from the prescribed political view who need to be labelled as different, as an outsider, as a threat.

It is precisely in this role that the media has cast Jeremy Corbyn, which has certainly gone some way to dilute attention paid to the campaigns of Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall. As has been evidenced by the ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign, the Conservatives are taking a risk that the media on whom they have been able to count for faithful support (in return for certain favours) will be able to cast such aspersions upon Corbyn that he will be seen as unelectable. And if anyone is seen to be unelectable, then they become unelectable.

Yet it is a gamble.

If it doesn’t come off then we will have, for the first time in many decades, a prime minister who doesn’t kowtow to the god of neoliberalism. What support Corbyn has is strong, but is it widespread? For a widespread but half-hearted support will always win an election against a fervent minority. For an example of this, I would point you to the result of last year’s Scottish independence referendum.

Corbyn’s campaign has undoubtedly stirred up the imaginations of those on the fringes of the party whose views have been marginalised in the last 20 years. But is he likely to win over the floating voters in the marginal constituencies in England and Wales that Labour would need, as well as win back the voters of Scotland who voted SNP in May?

The idea that Corbyn would be unable to do so is the main argument used against his leadership bid. There are some within the Labour party who think it is better to choose someone who could win an election; so long as they are in charge of a party called Labour, it doesn’t matter what their principles are. The idea being that a party called Labour is better in charge than the Conservative party, regardless of whether or not their policies are indistinguishable. Such a view is indicative of the collective move to the political right where power is the end goal, not service to society.

So for some, there is little good about Corbyn. To some in the Labour party, he must be stopped as he represents a possible hindrance to regaining power. To this end, he ought to be demonised and every flaw pointed out and made known so as to dissuade people from voting for him. Appeals are made back to Tony Blair, the only leader of a party called Labour who has won any general in the last 30+ years. The argument goes roughly like this: people may have hated Thatcher but she won elections; people may hate Blair but he won elections; people hate Cameron and he’s won an election; so it doesn’t matter what your policies are – so long as you have a good PR machine you can win power. That is far more important than having The Other Party in power.

It is partly because Corbyn represents a break from this hegemony that he is so popular, though one would be naive to think that he doesn’t have some advisors in his ear, telling him what to wear, how to make sure he is listened to and how to combat any negativity he may face.

Yet there is a danger inherent in choosing someone who makes a break from the norm. That is, that the reason they get chosen is because they are the only alternative. This can foster the belief that they are the best person for the job, when in fact they may not be, but the novelty factor may supersede any scrutiny that they may be placed under. With Corbyn, one factor that has been brought up is his unwillingness to condemn some terrorist organisations such the IRA and Hamas.

That said, the ‘Friends with Terrorists’ label never did Thatcher too much harm, given her support for Pinochet’s reign of terror in Argentina or Blair’s endorsement and participation in the illegal war against Iraq.

Still, the fact that he represents something different, could attract those who want ‘just anything different’. i.e. that people are so fed up with the norm that they accept the first new thing that comes along.

Whoever does win the Labour leadership (and at this point, my expectation is that Corbyn will win), they will not be perfect. They’ll make errors of judgement both in matters of policy and of PR. They are not the person who will be able to undo the Conservatives’ legacy of public sector cuts, underfunded services, selling off government property to the private sector at cut prices and a massive increase in the use of foodbanks.

The only advice I have is to beware of those who speak uncritically of Corbyn or any other candidate. If they portray their chosen candidate as the person to solve all of Labour’s ills, then they are not a person to listen to. For support is not the same as sycophancy and no one is perfect.

The election happened, what next for the left?

Since last week’s general election, many have been quick off the mark with writing the post mortem, suggesting what went wrong and a few early hats have been thrown into the ring for the vacant party leadership roles.

I hope you’ve not become bored of reading such articles. I’ve written this over the course of the weekend; so I’m sorry that’s not been as quick off the mark as others have been. The plan is to look at the disparity between what was widely expected to happen and what did happen, try to look at some of the reasons behind this, suggest how the UK political left might start the fightback and what the ordinary citizens of this country can do in the meantime.

What was expected to happen?

With the opinion polls that were published prior to the election, there was no clear winner. It seemed likely that the Conservatives would win the most seats but fall short of an overall majority. Labour were expected to suffer heavily at the hands of the SNP in Scotland, but that they might gain a fair few from the Liberal Democrats, meaning an overall small loss in the net number of seats.

My own particular guess was that in the Lib/Con marginals, the Liberal Democrat voters would, in spite of their party’s betrayal, remain loyal. After all, their sin was to go into coalition with the Conservatives, so it would make no sense for voters to go from Lib Dem to Conservative. I thought they might lose some voters to Labour, ultimately diluting the Lib+Lab vote and allowing the Conservatives a few wins, but not many, as they would vote with the Lib Dems as a tactical manoeuvre.

I also thought that, given the cuts the Conservatives unleashed in the last 5 years that Labour would pick up some Lab/Con marginals. Further Labour gains would result from the rise of UKIP which would dilute the Conservative vote.

The result would be that the Conservatives wouldn’t be able to win a majority and that another attempted coalition with the Liberal Democrats would still fall short. The other possibility was that Labour would try to form a coalition with the SNP but that too would fall short of a majority. Yet crucially, Lab+SNP would be greater than Con+Lib.

As a result, I thought that we would end up with a minority government. Such a government would not last long, being unable to pass a queen’s speech and losing a vote of no confidence, triggering a second election this year. Given a quick failure, whoever formed the minority government would likely lose the subsequent election, making this May a good election to lose. My hope then was that since the Conservatives had the most seats, they would be the ones to drink from the poisoned chalice.

What happened?

My estimate was wrong. I’d bought in too much to the published opinion polls prior to the election and when the exit polled showed a clear lead (though not quite a majority) for the Conservatives, I didn’t believe it.

The expected windfall of seats for the SNP did happen, with a number of high profile people losing their seats, including Douglas Alexander, Danny Alexander, Jim Murphy and Charles Kennedy.

The first real warning sign, though, was in Nuneaton. It was a target Labour seat that they needed to win if they were going to beat the Conservatives. But instead of that happening, the Conservatives won the seat with an increased majority. This happened in several marginals, though Labour did take some (and the Conservatives won a few Labour-held marginals). This was not a case of a significant victory (though I would say it was a notable victory) for the Conservatives; more a stern defence of that which they held most precariously. Also, the success that UKIP had in the last round of local elections was not replicated, meaning that they did not dilute Conservative support as much as had been expected. A case in example was my incorrect prediction about what would happen in Crawley, where I lived for 7 years.

The real surprise was what happened in the Lib Dem dominated area of South-West England. Here, contrary to my (and others’) expectations, the Lib Dem voters did abandon their party in droves, and went to the Conservatives. It was these wins that really helped to ensure the Conservatives won a majority.

Why it happened?

We have to acknowledge that this is now a highly divided country. Scotland is undoubtedly the country of the SNP. London is predominantly a Labour city. In England, outside of London, the Conservatives are the dominant party except for in former mining communities. Wales is predominantly Labour, by population, at least. As with London, their support is greater in more urban areas, though the constituencies with larger areas are more mixed, so the Labour majority doesn’t show up well on a map. Northern Ireland has a quite different politics altogether, which has a far deeper and more painful history than I can reasonably go into here.

I would need to add: the SNP ensured that Labour had a bad night. But the SNP are not to blame for allowing David Cameron back into Downing Street. If they had increased their share of the vote, yet not won a single extra seat, then David Cameron would still have a majority. The difference would be that Labour would have a greater share of the opposition benches.

I have long maintained the idea that governments are not so much voted in as they are voted out. In 1997, the Conservatives had lost any shred of credibility and all Labour needed to do was present a credible alternative. They did that successfully and won the election with a landslide. At the time, people asked if it was the end of the Conservative party. It wasn’t. It was damaging, yes, and they were unlikely to win the next election either. But then Labour took 418 seats, with the Conservatives on 165. Compare that to last week, when the Conservatives won 331 and Labour won 232. So I think one cannot say that 2015 was as bad for Labour as 1997 was for the Conservatives.

In 2010, Labour were the ones who had lost credibility, so it should have been a cake-walk for the Conservatives to win a majority, but it was a reflection of their electoral failure that we ended up with a hung parliament, resulting in a coalition. A part of this may well be due to the fact that the Conservatives came off worse than Labour did in the expenses scandal. Though trust in both sides was severely dented by that episode.

They key thing that happened in electoral terms was where the disaffected Lib Dem voters went. In London, having looked through some of the constituency results (I haven’t done a full numerical analysis yet), they seem to have gone largely to Labour and the Greens, with some to UKIP and a handful to the Conservatives. This is what I expected to happen nationwide, but elsewhere, particularly in the south-west, the largest chunk of Lib Dem voters went Conservative. I confess, I don’t understand why they would really do this. It’s not a part of the country I live in and I haven’t been able to speak to anyone who did switch their vote that way.

Beyond that, though, my view is that the Labour message was too piecemeal. They were chasing the agenda set by the mainstream media (see below), coming up with policies in response to what others had said, instead of leading the way with an alternative vision. Much of the discussion over the last few days has asked whether they were too far left (which doesn’t wash with Scotland, nor with the opposition to their ‘control immigration’ mug) or too far right (which doesn’t explain why they didn’t take the English marginals that were ripe for the picking).

How to fix it?

There has to be a long term strategy from the left. Ideally, this should be a 13 year strategy, starting from now. Why 13? Well, there should be 3 phases: the first starts now and needs to establish a plan for bringing down the Conservatives at the next election, replacing them with a credible, progress and egalitarian government. But it would be too short term to say the aim is to be elected. The strategy has to include a full 5 year plan for government. Yet we know what the Conservatives have done in the last 5 years of coalition, and we have some idea about what they will do, untethered, in the next 5 years. Will a single term be enough to unwind the legacy of the David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith? Maybe not. So we need to think about how to start undoing the damage they’ve done as well as the further damage they will do; this will entail fixing the country and preparing for a 2nd term.

The strategy has to be two-fold: national and local.

On the national level, there has to be a whole, coherent and credible alternative. The first thing is the substance of the message, be it on business, on housing, on debt, on immigration, on debt, on taxation, on education, on defence, on health, etc. More than that, though, any election strategy has to incorporate the media. While there has been some progress with social media, it remains the BBC and the newspapers who set the agenda. Given these are largely Conservative biased (the BBC’s main political team of Nick Robinson, David Dimbleby, Andrew Marr and Andrew Neill being the most notable of the pro-Tory group) then an infiltration strategy is partly what’s needed. One can combat the right-wing hegemony head on, to sing a different tune. Yet one can also attempt to change the tune from within the choir. In the wake of the election, people have been joining both the Liberal Democrats and Labour. Yet party members are unlikely to find employment in press run by Murdoch, Dacre or the Barclay brothers. A little more subtlety is required. In short, to be as clever as a fox, whilst remaining as innocent as a dove.

Then we have the matter of the Independent’s betrayal, as they encouraged a continuation of a Conservative-led coalition, while the Evening Standard, owned by the same tycoon who runs the Independent, backed the Conservatives. My proposition is that we need a new left-leaning national newspaper. I suggested this on social media on the election and was subsequently trolled for saying it. Amongst the irrational rantings that were aimed at me, they said that the Guardian and the Mirror were sufficient and that there was nothing wrong with the over-arching dominance of the newspaper market by a very small number of very rich men with a vested in interest in keeping the Conservatives singing their tune.

On the local level, the obvious answer is to set about targeting the seats to win. However, there has been a strong suspicion that to counter this, the Conservatives will attempt to rig the next election by changing the constituency boundaries so as to favour them. I’ve read comments from Conservative supporters saying that their primary aim is to make sure than Labour are locked out of government for decades. As an example of how this could be done, they might enlarge the London constituencies (making sure they are larger both in terms of population and area), thus reducing their number; or they might take two adjacent Conservative constituencies and make them into three.

For the Liberal Democrats, they have space to come back. First of all, though, they need to acknowledge their responsibility for helping to introduce the bedroom tax, for Sure Start centres, for cuts to disability benefits, for targeted sanctions against the unemployed. They can’t say that because they were in coalition they were forced to do those things. They need to acknowledge that they were wrong. Then, depending on how the majority Conservative government play things out, they can (as some have before the election) list out the things they prevented happening during the coalition’s reign. Things like the Conservative plan to repeal the Human Rights Act, to change the boundaries, to make even deeper cuts or further and faster privatisation of the NHS. If they can do this, then they stand a chance of taking back some of the Lib/Con marginals they lost, particularly those in south-west England and south-west London.

In the mean time

I am not a politician. I am not a journalist. I am someone who cares. Someone who is worried and fearful of the harm that this government will do.

On Saturday there was protest held in Westminster. I had looked around to see if I could find any plan for a protest but could find none. The first I heard about it was on Twitter after it had begun, by which time it seemed a little late to go and join. I supported that protest, and let me say why.

Democracy should not be an event that happens one day every five years. Democracy should be woven into the fabric of the society we live in. When we’re not at the ballot box, we can protest, we can petition, we can march, we can write letters, we can go and see our MPs at their local surgeries. Such expressions of democracy can be firm, they can be loud and at times, they can be disruptive. There are lines to be drawn, though. I do not advocate violence, nor do I advocate inappropriate protest, such as the graffiti that one person put on a war memorial.

Protests against austerity or against the removal of human rights are not, as some Conservatives have been saying, moaning or whinging about the result of the election. While there is a debate to be had over the effectiveness of our current democratic system (c.f. the referendum debate and the outcome of every close election – my particular favourite example is 1951), I do not dispute the Conservative’s right to govern. It has been suggested to me, by several on the political right, that accepting the legitimacy of the result means that we shouldn’t protest. I cannot agree with that.

When Labour won the 1997 general election and sought to introduce a national minimum wage, Conservatives would have been well within their rights to take to the streets to demand that employers should be allowed to employ people for as little pay as they saw fit.

Nor do I agree with the accusation that protest is in any way sanctimonious or self-righteous. To speak out against the Conservatives is an act of compassion; of standing up for those who have been, and will be hurt, by the acting out of Conservative policy. To turn one’s back or adopt an “I’m alright, Jack” attitude is an act of wilful negligence. There will be a time for gentler persuasion, but right now the time is right to give Conservative voters a metaphorical slap across the face, show them what they have allowed to happen. So that, like the end of The Bridge On The River Kwai, they may realise what they have done. I do not wish to demonise Conservative voters. Instead, my prayer for them is “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”

A Wednesday thought – a case for corporate profits on the left

In the last week, the election campaign has focused on which of the two main parties are the better prospect for “business”. I use the term in quotation marks because it is such a broad term with many aspects, that anyone can almost mean anything by it.

The focus has been on a small number of Conservative-cheering chief executives come out and in a shock move that took everyone by surprise criticising Labour. In some cases the attacks on Labour were more vicarious as the criticisms were more directed against Ed Miliband.

Needing to save political face, Ed Balls was sent off to the Newsnight studio where he made a bit of a mess of things. Now while there is a very good case for saying that today’s Labour party is far too far to the political right, they remain further to the left than the Tories, even if that has as much meaning as saying that a place is further south than Greenland.

So here’s my attempt at making a case, from a left wing perspective, for why companies should be making profits.

The core of the case has to be that for a civilised, progressive country that looks after its young, its elderly, its sick, its disabled, its unemployed, its homeless or any other vulnerable group, there has to be a guaranteed provision for them. By being a guarantee, this means that the charity of the wealthy cannot be relied upon. For too long there has been a meta-narrative of the “deserving poor” when what is needed is social justice that, like legal justice, is blind to any impediments or prejudice.

Such a guarantee is a costly thing and it needs to be funded. This is where companies can make their contribution. By making profits, which are then taxed fairly, sufficient funding can made for every necessary public service. The main obstacle to this is neoliberal trickle-down ideology that insists, contrary to evidence, that the private sector, subject to market forces, is best placed for the provision of services. Once this false idol can be slain, then the tricky job of balancing the books comes first with a forecast of what central costs will be in the coming years. Then one can determine how much tax needs to be raised (though given the huge cost of the bank bail outs, an over recovery is needed) in order to recoup the costs.

But if companies are not paying sufficient tax then we will continue to run a budget deficit, funded by ever increasing debt. Such has been the case for the last 6 years.

Therefore, one of the major contributors to the public purse has to be corporation tax. The two main obstacles to this are tax avoidance and not having sufficient (un-avoided) pre-tax profits from which tax may be paid. So there are two prongs to using corporations to help fund public services, but they are not mutually exclusive.

This why many on the political left have made such a big deal out of tax avoidance. From the current corporate mindset, though, tax is seen merely as an expense that should be minimised. In this regard, what is needed is a change in the mindset, so that tax is seen not as a burden but as a contribution to the society in which the corporation is based.

The factor that the left is less noisy about is the fact that in order to be able to pay tax, companies must be allowed to make pre-tax profits. The difficulty that this brings for the left is that the cause of profits is generally attributed to some combination of over-charging customers or exploiting workers. If one accepts this premise, then it cannot be morally right for any company to make profits but the consequence then is that there’s insufficient funding for public services. If one is to then make a moral case for profit-making activities then the two-fold premise of profit creation must be brought into question. In other words, can a company pay its employees a reasonable wage, charge its customers a fair price for its goods or services and still turn a profit?

If the answer to this is ‘no’, then reducing loopholes that allow for tax avoidance is meaningless since, if all loopholes are closed, we would only seek to then go on and eliminate the existence of profits that could be taxed in the first place.

Therefore, I contend that profits are necessary. Whether they are regarded as a necessary evil is certainly a point that could be further debated. And, of course, what constitutes a reasonable size of profit could also be debated, hopefully in relation to the size of revenue of the business but without falling into the financially naive trap of trying to make a point of rhetoric based on “Co X had £Y of revenue but only paid £z in corporation tax”.

A question about UKIP and the left

Is it really such a good idea for those of us on the left to urge people not to vote for UKIP? 

A lot is made about the publicity that UKIP get these, not least the amount of airtime they are given in proportion to their current level of representation in the House of Commons. This is often contrasted with the Green Party (though oddly not so often with Plaid Cymru, the SNP or the Democratic Unionists).

With the European and some local elections coming up, things are getting ever more heated and partisan. I have seen people urged to mail bricks to UKIP’s offices on the basis that they use a freepost address and so will be made to pay for the delivery costs, rather than the person posting the bricks. Though amusing, it strikes me as rather childish.

One could examine their policies, as some have done, and point out areas of disagreement with an apparent sense of ridicule. One tactic I haven’t seen and wondered “why not” is to point out the contradiction that they don’t want the UK to be a part of Europe and yet they still put candidates forward for the European elections!

But so what? Those who have a tendency to stick to the left of British politics are never likely to vote for UKIP anyway. Who are we trying to persuade?

After the failure of the “Yes to AV” campaign to reform the voting system, we are stuck with the less democratic First Past The Post system. The downside of this system is that where you have multiple parties standing on similar principles, the vote can be diluted so that an overall less popular, but very different, view may win.

If UKIP were to gain a majority in the House of Commons (or be part of a coalition) then one might have a genuine cause for concern, but that really doesn’t seem like a probably outcome. One asks, where are the UKIP supporters coming from?

Some may be protest votes, but it seems reasonable that quite a few are coming over from the Conservatives. This is why David Cameron should be worried. The loony right wing section of racists and xenophobes who helped put him into number 10 are one of the legs upon the Tories stand. Take it away from them and you get the right wing vote diluted, which will favour the likes of Labour, the Greens and even possibly the Lib Dems (though I believe their credibility has been dashed by their role in the present coalition and that after the next election Nick Clegg will be a pariah, resigned from the party leader leadership and will be blamed for the next decade of poor outcomes for the Lib Dems).

So if we persuade those who are currently tempted to vote for UKIP not to do so, where might they turn? I would posit that the obvious place is to go for the party which has the most similar policies, the Conservatives. And do we really want to encourage people to vote Tory? I think not!

Book Review: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

As promised at the end of my review of Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolution, I will be following up this year with more reading of some key communist themes. And what could be a better place to start than with the communist manifesto? One could argue that no document written in the last 200 years has had such a profound effect on the course of world history. If we limit it to political history, then that case may be strengthened.

Before even opening it, though, the reader will almost inevitably be faced with some kind of prejudice. Because of what almost any educated person will know about communism and its chequered past, one might come to this document seeking an affirmation of their political point of view. Others may come with a wholly critical attitude, determined to disagree with every aspect. I came to this expecting to disagree with some aspects and agree with others, though I expected to agree with more than I disagreed with.

I refer to it as a document as it is only 34 pages long, so whether you consider this a real book review is up to you. Proportionally, it probably has the highest ratio of words in the review to words in what is being reviewed.

Published in 1848, it is clear from the start that this was a statement of a communism that already existed, albeit as a spectre. Written also before Marx’s Capital (which I hope to read and review later this year), it comes at the end of the period covered by Hobsbawm in his Age of Revolution. It opens with an assertion about history: that “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” This is the foundational principle on which the communist manifesto is built.

What Marx & Engels then go on to do is to describe the two classes which exist in all societies, the ruling class, the bourgeois, and the working class, the proletariat.

The approach to history is one that I don’t agree with. While, if you think through various aspects of history, one could adopt this very black and white methodology, it will ultimately fall short of being a true and fair description. In the 60 or so years leading up the publication of the communist manifesto, this may have been more apparent, which almost certainly had some level of influence on Marx & Engels, but it seems unreasonable to rewrite all history in this binary narrative. Yet that is precisely what they propose: to state history in terms of the present.

One could possibly look at the English Civil War or the Peasants’ Revolt in these terms without going too far wrong. But what if we look at early church history? Does the preaching of the gospel by Peter and Paul, the riots and imprisonments they faced fit this narrative? If one could construct such a narrative it would be highly forced and miss vitally important features.

As it is stated, therefore, I cannot agree unreservedly with the opening premise. That’s not to say it is wholly worthless. Given the historical and political background out of the communist manifesto came, it does help to put on this particular pair of glasses to see the metanarrative of what was going on in western Europe at the time. This is the task that Hobsbawm undertook, though it must be added that he was rather more sophisticated than the writers of the manifesto.

The feeling I got all the way through was one of anger. Not anger on my part, but that it was the product of disillusioned minds. It seemed easy to imagine that it might be the product of an intelligent, literate, but ultimately misguided teenager.

The argument roughly runs as thus: the bourgeois have been the rulers of Europe and that in spite of some obvious progress that has been made, they ultimately cannot be trusted and that since there are only two classes (according to the definition) then it is time for the proletariat to assume control. How this is to be achieved is muddled. At times, references are made to democratic elections, as there is an assumption that since the working classes outnumber the bourgeois that winning an election is inevitable. At other times, most famously at the end, there is a call for violent revolution.

There are many flaws in this analysis, not least the belief in the homogeneity of the working classes. It is quite patronising, even, to presume that because the communists wish for the working class to rule (though who, precisely, is never stated) that there should be universal support for the communist manifesto.

In fact, to call it a manifesto is a bit generous. There are very few proposals in it. Though there is a short list of 10 demands. One could go into more detail for each of these, though I may do that in a separate blog post. Oddly, the one that shocked me the most was the 10th: “Free education in all public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production &c., &c.” I am not certain as to whether the term “public schools” meant ‘public’ in the terms of being open to all or whether, as is peculiar in British history (remembering that Marx and Engels were both informed by the politics of Britain) of using the term ‘public’ when what it is actually meant is ‘private’. Perhaps one of you can enlighten me on this issue. Either way, to have the idea of free education to be thought of as radical makes me think how far we have come.

There are several issues I have with the vision that Marx & Engels proposed. It seems to me to be unrealistically ideal. They seem to hark back to some kind of ‘golden age’ of full employment, with a strong emphasis on agriculture. Whether such an age existed is dubious, yet their view of history prevents a sober assessment. I am also not a proponent of the revolutionary aspects of their proposal, in particular the idea of wresting property by force.

Though I could not wholly endorse them, that does not mean that I then fall back onto a default position of opposition. The critiques of the middle classes and the control of capital are not groundless. Yet the views which I hold to are roughly described, and criticised, by Marx and Engels. They refer to it as bourgeois socialism, where the emphasis is not about seizing political control, but about the improvement of the conditions of the working classes through reform rather than revolution.

It doesn’t take long to read, but there is much to ponder here. On the basis of what I have read, I could not consider myself, or be reasonably considered by others, to be a communist. I object to the hardline nature of the document but do agree with some of the points made.

I’ll let you make of it what you will.

God loves a Tory

Inspiration for this post

Last week’s Theos report on the voting habits of christians, catholics and those of other faiths seemed to prompt a bit of comment. I haven’t witnessed a hornet’s nest, more the recognition of some uncomfortable truths. The headline that got the most attention was that the Church of England remains the Tory party at prayer.

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect was about the variability in nonconformist churches. I’ve written before a little about my political views and how they relate to my faith, but I want to take an alternative look at here.

Background to my thinking

To those who would claim that christianity is inherently apolitical, I would recommend reading through the New Testament after some reading literature about Roman culture in the first centuries BC & AD, playing a game of “spot the counter imperial rhetoric”.

To give something of an order of priorities, to me as a christian, Christ comes first. How we understand the person, teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are paramount. We may use a variety of tools (variously coming the umbrella term ‘theology’, though some are identifiable by other names such as history or philosophy) to understand him, but this is the way to approach questions of faith and God. To drive straight at these topics without going via Jesus is like trying to walk through a brick wall while ignoring the door. This task is not individualistic, but is to be undertaken as a community, an ekklesia, a church. That is not to be corporatist, either; we each have our own responsibility, just as I have my particular duties within my company. I am not my company and could not possibly fulfill all its duties. I need the help of my colleagues.

Out of this understanding comes a revised worldview. This, to my understanding, is the sort of thing Paul refers to in Romans 12 where he speaks of the renewal of the mind. This worldview expresses itself a variety of ways. Amongst the many colours, shades, shapes and flavours this manifests itself, politics is one them. To try to remove politics from the worldview strikes me as artificial. It says “I will let this thing called christianity inform and potentially change my views on A, B and C, but not X, Y and Z”.

From this revised mindset we can then ask what kind of politics this entails. I have given a sketch of what this mindset looks like before. To summarise, I find the position I am in can broadly be described as left-wing. This statement must be understood carefully. I would not claim that christianity is inherently left wing or right wing. These are terms that came into our language from the French Revolution. To apply them retrospectively to Jesus and his early followers is anachronistic. What I do is find my worldview based on my best understanding of the relevant issues involved and then look at who my nearest neighbours are.

From political views to party politics

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. That much seems clear from the Theos report. But there is a factor missing here, which is the link between political views and political parties. While I describe myself as left-wing and have views on various topics that could be described similarly, it does not follow that that means I should wholly and unequivocally support a particular political party.

This was epitomised last week during a Twitter exchange with the organisation, Christians on the Left (formerly the Christian Socialists). I stated that I could not become a member because they are affiliated to the Labour party. Some take the view that it is better to be a part of a party with whom you disagree so that you can attempt to change it, others like that is idealistic and foolhardy, preferring to stand on your own principles rather than kowtow to the whims of the party leaders and whatever manifesto their spin doctors have produced. You won’t be surprised to read that I fall into the latter group. I will not be a member of a political party nor be a member of an organisation that has a close affiliation with a political party.

That doesn’t mean I abstain from voting for people who members of political parties. As I went some way to explaining before the referendum on the alternative vote system I am also a pragmatist and have voted tactically in the past. This has led, in the past, to me voting for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and independent candidates, at one election or another. Ideally, I would like to be able to vote for individual local representatives, based on their own policies and ideas as well as to vote for cabinet members who, having met a requirement for suitable experience (e.g. an education secretary who has worked in a school or a health secretary who has worked as a doctor or a nurse). That’s my kind of idealism, but I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

For now, I settle with trying to make the best of bad system. Though it may surprise some, I bite my tongue a lot when it comes to political matters. No more so than in the office where I am surrounded by conservatives (indeed Conservatives) who views sicken me. But this is not the place to moan about my workmates.

The main point

So, with that slightly lengthy preamble over, what of the title of this piece? If I find the values of individualism and greed which lie at the heart of what it means to be a right-winger to be an anathema to my christian beliefs, why am I happy to worship alongside conservatives?

It is because of the order of things referred to above. First and foremost, the ecclesiology I hold to is one of inclusiveness and unity. We are to be one Church abiding in Jesus Christ. Everything else comes second. We may disagree about some of the consequences of what it means to be a christian, but so long as we are looking at the same Jesus, then we can stand side by side.

It is because of this that I am happy to worship alongside conservatives, creationists, homophobes, misogynists and any other type of person who holds views contrary to me own. Yes, I think they are all wrong and would dearly love them to think through their views, but that should not be an obstacle to fellowship. Yes, it may cause difficulties and make us all assess what the tone should be that we use when univocally declare the gospel of the coming of kingdom of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but that doesn’t mean we should stay silent on the matter until we agree on every secondary or tertiary matter.

Unity in the Church (including cooperation and shared fellowship between churches) is something I have, in recent months, come to prioritise more than I have done before.

To look at it the other way round, imagine if churches were not welcoming to those who disagreed with one or two points of emphasis. We would end up shutting people out. The first people I want in churches are sinners, a category in which I include myself. Just as I may view conservatives as the “weaker brother” I know they probably view me similarly, thinking that my left-wing ideas of caring for people are immature or naive.

If we are to understand that the CofE leadership is broadly liberal, then having a conservative membership may actually speak to the leadership’s credit. If they have fostered an environment where any and all feel welcome, then that is something to be commended. I might not agree with someone’s voting patterns, and I am glad I live in a country where I can say so. OK, the Tories may have just pushed through a gagging law preventing religious organisations and other charities from criticising their policies, which is rather worrying. However, as that was not part of their manifesto or the coalition agreement, those who voted for the Tories last time cannot really be held responsible for the passing of such a draconian measure.

We can have our discussions over party politics, over matters of socio-economic policy and I think it’s fine in the short term for us to disagree over how the gospel impacts those. But when it comes to church, let us put aside those differences and worship the risen and living God together.