Political Parties

The Epistle of St Nigel: Ukip’s crass ‘Christian Manifesto’

 

Ukip have issued a ‘Christian Manifesto‘. They haven’t issued a Muslim one, or a Hindu one, or a Sikh one, or a Buddhist one. Nor have they issued a Jewish one, which is odd when you consider the preponderance of ‘Judæo-Christian’ concerns they profess to address (though they never use the ligature). But there is a Christian one, presumably aimed at garnering the Christian vote, and it’s set against a blessed backdrop of Hymns Ancient and Modern (New Standard), with the Epistle of St Nigel exhorting visions and dreams of a “muscular defence of our Christian heritage and our Christian Constitution”:

..ours is fundamentally a Christian nation and so we believe Christianity should be recognised by Government at all levels. Sadly, I think UKIP is the only major political party left in Britain that still cherishes our Judaeo-Christian heritage. I believe other parties have deliberately marginalised our nation’s faith, whereas we take Christian values and traditions into consideration when making policy. Take the family, for instance. Traditional Christian views of marriage and family..

And on he goes – about the family, marriage, euthanasia, abortion, health, education, poverty, homelessness, welfare, foodbanks, overseas aid, immigration and church repairs. These are the tender policies of maternity and pastoral care. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course: Christians are called to minister, and Christian theology is pastoral. But don’t Christians care about defence? Or policing? Or roads, trains, planes and taxation? Is Trident too beefy an issue for Christians? Is HS2 immaterial, or crime and justice somehow inapplicable? And what about war and peace?

It is a travesty of the Faith, not to say a parody of Christian concerns and a contortion of what it means to be Christian to limit ‘Christian issues’ to housing the homeless and feeding the starving. Yes, there’s a nod to a host of life’s other contingencies, but the verbiage is mostly aimless waffle and there’s nothing particularly (or even exclusively) ‘Christian’ about any of it.

Freedom of Worship: “We will uphold robustly the rights of Christians, as well as those of other faiths, to worship as they wish and to espouse their beliefs openly, within the limits of the common law.” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely? Or the policies of Labour and the Liberal Democrats? Does anyone at Ukip Towers understand the difference between freedom of worship and freedom of belief? What of the expression of belief which transgresses “the limits of the common law”? What happens when Christians seek to walk in spirit and in truth and “the common law” inhibits or prohibits?

Family: “We recognise the valuable role played by the traditional family unit in society and will never discriminate against traditional marriage.” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely? Discrimination on the grounds of marital status is already illegal.

Same-sex marriage: “We will not repeal the legislation.. but we will not require churches to marry same-sex couples.” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely? Churches already may not be required to conduct such services: the ‘quadruple lock’ ensures that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to officiate; that religious organisations must opt in rather than be presumed to be statutory obligated; that no claims on the grounds of discrimination may be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple; and that primary legislation is required to permit the Church of England to carry out such services.

Euthanasia and Abortion: “UKIP has no plans to change existing legislation on euthanasia or the ‘right to die.’” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely?

Human Trafficking: “Our Christian forefathers fought hard to abolish slavery and now we must fight to end it in modern-day Britain.” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely? Is Ukip aware that Theresa May has introduced – with the help and guidance of of Christians – the most comprehensive legislation to end this scourge?

Economic Growth: “UKIP would rather spend your money on the NHS, education, supporting older people and the disabled, defending our nation, honouring the military covenant, helping get the jobless into work, maintaining vital public services, and cutting the debts we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely? Surely everyone would rather spend money on hospitals than paying off debt interest, but until the deficit is eradicated debt cannot begin to fall.

The NHS: “UKIP will keep the NHS free at the point of delivery for all British citizens, funded by general taxation.” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely?

Education: “UKIP backs faith schools provided they are open to the whole community, uphold British values, do not discriminate against any section of society and meet required educational standards. We believe Religious Education must be taught in all schools and should reflect the religious make-up of the country as a whole.” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely? Is Ukip aware of the existence of school admissions codes? Are they not aware that Religious Education has been statutory in the curriculum since 1944? Are they not aware that since 1988 the requirement has been to reflect the religious make-up of the country as a whole? And as for establishing a grammar school in every town, why is there an assumption that Christians oppose comprehensive education?

Poverty and Welfare: “UKIP is fully committed to keeping and strengthening the welfare system.. However, we believe a life on benefits for those who can work should never act as a disincentive to employment..” How does this differ from Conservative policy, precisely? Have Ukip not heard of Iain Duncan Smith?

Homelessness: “No one should be living on Britain’s streets and we want to end homelessness.” That’s nice. So do the Conservatives (and Labour and the LibDems and Greens and the SNP, Plaid and DUP). “UKIP will create a National Homeless Register. This will enable those of no fixed abode to claim their welfare entitlements, seek care and support services if they are at risk of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and get full access to GP, dental and other NHS medical services.” A national register? You don’t need state bureaucracy to minister to the vulnerable: this is already happening – organically – with the multi-agency safeguarding collaboration of Local Authorities, Social Services, the Citizens Advice Bureau, charities and churches. It isn’t perfect, but a national register will solve nothing and add nothing.

Foodbanks: “UKIP will train up and put 800 advisors into 800 foodbanks to help those in most need get timely help, in a single venue.” Foodbanks are run by established charities, often in collaboration with local churches, and staff are perfectly well equipped to advise any visitors on where they may find help, even if that advice is to direct them to the local Citizens Advice Bureau. There is nothing to be gained by replicating a workload or imposing training on volunteers when there are fully-trained professionals down the road. Will Ukip put advisors into Muslim foodbanks, or do they think Christians would object?

Overseas Aid: “..we will divert much of our overseas aid budget to help the desperate here in Britain, while continuing to fund vital programmes run by reputable organisations..” If the UK were already following Ukip’s policy of spending 0.2 per cent of GNI on Overseas Aid, this would mean in 2014 that we would have spent £3.37bn. They say they will continue to fund “vital programmes”, but by what criteria are these to be judged? What programmes would Ukip cut? What about education the world’s poorest children? Or job and economic growth-creating initiatives, designed to end aid dependency forever? Would they cut efforts to tackle corruption, promote property rights and support women and girls’ rights, including an end to practices like female genital mutilation and forced marriage? Charity doesn’t begin at home if your neighbour is in crisis.

Asylum and Immigration? “We welcome controlled immigration, which we will manage through an Australian-style points-based system.” Fine. Good. But what is specifically ‘Christian’ about this? May not the mission-minded rather favour the polity by which the lost may wander across the border to seek salvation?

Church repairs? “14,500 churches in Britain are listed buildings. Church repairs used to be free from VAT, but in 2012 the Chancellor applied the standard rate of VAT, forcing up bills for parishes and communities nationwide. UKIP will cut VAT back to just 5% to help maintain our churches as both heritage buildings and vibrant, thriving places of worship.” O dear. Pitching for the Christian vote with an appeal to church repairs is desperate stuff, especially when Ukip omits to explain that as recently as March George Osborne awarded a £30 million funding package for listed buildings, of which the Church is receiving around £19 million, with a second round of £25 million to open for 2015-16. ChurchCare, the buildings division of the Church of England, welcomed the grants for 372 parish churches and said that this would make an “immeasurable” difference to local communities. This more than offsets any imposition of VAT.

All in all, Ukip’s ‘Christian Manifesto’ is a narrow attempt to define the directions in which the Christian faith must express itself, based on a partial understanding of life and a flawed apprehension of the empirical situation. Christian judgment must be acute in the realm of political realism, and spiritual insights must be incarnational if society is to be transformed. It may be helpful (and necessary) to draw attention to some dire situations and moral concerns, but it is clear from this manifesto that Ukip lacks an understanding of ‘doing God’ in a context which requires a renewal of theological integrity and missiology to offer profound insights and radical solutions.

Further, there are (or ought to be) no ‘Christian issues’ which are not common to the whole of human identity. Shared human personal need should be the catalyst for a creative response, and that response may come from or be expressed by believers of all faiths and none. In a context of religious pluralism, increasing secularity and social fragmentation, you solve nothing by banging on about Judæo-Christian values when, in the last analysis, the term is foolishness to the Greeks.