Votewise 2015
Democracy

Votewise 2015: a biblical case for localism, subsidiarity and restored national sovereignty

 

Over the last couple of months this site has covered some of the most prominent publications that have sought to define an appropriate form of Christian engagement with political matters as the General Election has drawn closer. The Archbishop of York’s On Rock or Sand and the Church of England’s pastoral letter Who is my Neighbour have received a thorough analysis. So, too, has Andy Flannagan’s Those Who Show Up, written on behalf of Christians in Politics.

But one notable oversight has been Guy Brandon’s Votewise 2015, produced on behalf of the Christian think-tank Jubilee Centre. This is possibly the most theologically-grounded book produced which considers a biblical approach to many issues dominating this General Election, including the economy, public services, the NHS and immigration. Brandon, the Jubilee Centre’s research director, has a PhD in Old Testament theology and it shows. Whereas some of the other offerings we have received have skimmed the surface of biblical principles, this book drills deep and, as a result, draws some unexpected conclusions. This will most likely be the case for many readers regarding the UK’s relationship with the EU. Having met Guy and the team from the Jubilee Centre, it is quite apparent that they are not attempting to pursue any party political agenda: the book entertains positions from across the political spectrum, if occasionally giving the impression of leaning more centre-right than the Church of England’s offerings have done.

This is part of Brandon’s presentation of a biblical view on membership of the EU:

We have lost sight of the original purpose of the European integration: peace through cooperation and prosperity. Instead voters now see it in terms of red tape, as a burden that leads to unfair competition for jobs and benefits. To a large number of people, EU membership has become synonymous with issues of immigration…

The Bible has much to say about immigration. How we understand this critical subject is obviously highly relevant to EU membership [the book finds immigration on balance to be positive, but that we should be weary of those whose allegiances lie elsewhere and have little interest in the welfare of the country they have chosen to settle in]. But the Bible also has much to say about the structures of power that govern the relationships between a country’s people and its central and local bodies of government…

Unnecessarily centralized authority comes with a warning attached in the Bible. Instead, the idea is that political and economic power should be as diffuse as possible: ‘Decentralisation of power facilitates the widespread participation in political and economic decisions, which is a necessary expression of every person being made in God’s image’. This also promotes better relationships, since power imbalances and the resentments they breed are kept to a minimum.

Subsidiarity [as set out in the Torah and in close similarity to Catholic Social Teaching] demands that responsibility be devolved to the lowest appropriate level. Stated like this, the principle is little more than common sense: tasks are to be given to those best placed to carry them out. More centralized authorities should be called upon only when a lower body is unable to achieve the required ends. Otherwise government ends up as a force that takes initiative and responsibility away from its citizens, accumulating power and forcing them to rely on it for things that they could do better themselves. In the best cases such overcentralized power is distant and interfering; in the worst, it is abusive. From its positive beginnings after the Second World War, the EU now represents this kind of distant, uncaring micromanager to many Brits.

The application for the UK’s EU membership is clear, and not particularly profound. There are things that the UK cannot do alone. We live in an era of globalization. Dealing with terrorism, international crime and trade negotiations are all easier when we are part of a global community, not isolated to struggle with them on our own.

But equally there is plenty that we can and should do ourselves, but do not. There are the well-known frustrations of EU membership:

While being part of club [sic] of 28 countries inevitably means compromise, there is a particular annoyance at the sense of a creeping extension of EU authority – regulating on trivial issues, sometimes counter to the wishes of the UK and its citizens, rather than focusing on the big picture issues like growth, trade and the Single Market… Areas where UK firms are frustrated with EU regulation, highlighted by nearly half of businesses as having had a negative impact – with particular frustrations around the Temporary Agency Workers Directive and Working Time Directive.

This is one of the few instances in this book where direct specific application will be made based on biblical principles. Staying in the EU but on renegotiated terms, such that we have greater control over the factors that most influence our citizens, is the preferred outcome. If renegotiation is not an option, matters become more complicated.

Brandon is not the only Christian commentator to come to these conclusions. The academic and theologian (..and editor of this site) Adrian Hilton has written a detailed discourse rejecting EU integration for the highly respected Kirby Laing Institute of Christian Ethics (KLICE), as part of their election coverage. He observes:

The localised attributes of national sovereignty and community civility are fundamentally challenged by the overriding and coercive moral-political ‘Euro-nationalism’ emerging from Brussels and Strasbourg. MacIntyre doesn’t specify the secular darkness of the European Union, but by invoking St Benedict, the reputed founder of Western monasticism, he alludes to lay communities comprised of individuals who are zealous for God; who are determined in their flawed brotherhood to reflect, worship and submit to a life of virtue for the good of human community. As St Benedict found, this is best achieved not by the grandiose visions of a prescriptive religious order, but by the conversion and renewal of individual hearts, who then dwell voluntarily in autonomous communities of mutual service and submission under the authority of a local abbot.

Although all of the parties have mentioned in their manifestos a need to renegotiate the terms of our membership of the EU, this line of thought and political rationale are much closer to the Conservative proposals for a UK Bill of Rights, or possibly to Ukip’s EU exit plans, than they are to the more nebulous Labour and LibDem proposals. For Brandon, the most persuasive biblical contention against the EU is not immigration, but the incremental erosion of our national autonomy and democracy. For the next government, whatever its eventual make-up, there are genuine grounds for demanding significant reforms within the EU, and an expectation that our relationship needs to change far beyond a bit of tinkering at the edges.

A key political theme of Votewise 2015 is the restoration of responsibility to individuals and communities, whether this is through repatriation of powers from Brussels; a more responsible attitude to debt; the support of the poorest; education and parenting within the family, or our own health and lifestyle choices. The need for reform in society and the renewal of our politics are unarguable as new challenges present themselves, and Christians should lead the pursuit of a restored moral vision. So, with one eye on Thursday’s vote, it is worth considering Brandon’s final words which pull these threads together:

Jesus said, ‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.’ Politicians and political parties come and go, but some things remain the same. Regardless of who is in government, there will always be injustice. Reform will always be needed. Bringing this about is not just the work of elected officials: it is the work of the kingdom.

James 4:17 reads: ‘Anyone, then, who knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.’ As Christians we all have a commission to bring about change in our society. The political system has its faults, and we should work to address these, but an overemphasis on the shortcomings of our politicians provides a pretext to sidestep the personal nature of this call and gives us an excuse not to engage directly with the issues that matter the most. Moreover, the commission is not a five-yearly one: it is for now, and for the rest of our lives. Voting should be a reflection of our ongoing activity to bring about God’s kingdom – not the limit of that activity.

  • Martin

    What we were told by those in favour of joining the EU was that it would be just a trade agreement, not a political union. On that lie is based a lot of distrust of politicians and the EU.

  • Anton

    There are things that the UK cannot do alone… Dealing with terrorism, international crime and trade negotiations are all easier when we are part of a global community, not isolated to struggle with them on our own. But equally there is plenty that we can and should do ourselves, but do not. There are the well-known frustrations of EU membership… Staying in the EU but on renegotiated terms, such that we have greater control over the factors that most influence our citizens, is the preferred outcome.

    It might be the preferred outcome of the author of those words but it is not mine. Not stated is that there is an alternative. We can either stay in and negotiate an opt-out on the issues of excessive control from Brussels, as the author advocates; or we can get out and negotiate an agreement on such matters as terrorism, international crime and trade negotiations.

    If we get out then it is to the Continent’s interest to cooperate on those things, as well as in our interest, so the agreement is easy to forge. But if we stay in then we face a fight every time Brussels proposes to regulate our lightbulbs, toilet cisterns, hoovers etc. That poisons international relations and meanwhile the diplomatic threats involved make it far from sure that we shall win those fights.

    So let’s get out. Anybody know a political party committed to that…?

    • Linus

      I do know a political party that wants to get the UK out of the EU.

      At least one of its candidates is willing to commit murder to stop the son of an immigrant winning his seat for the Conservatives.

      Vote Ukip into power on Thursday and how long will it be before a Nazi style pogrom gets rid of all political opposition?

      • Anton

        UKIP has undergone explosive expansion and does not currently have the resources to check the background of every one of its candidates to make sure that they have an implant from central office making sure that they say nothing when interviewed, as the big parties do. I’d rather have UKIP’s basic commitment to freedom and one or two bad apples than the people who have overseen the drift toward totalitarianism that has taken place during the EU’s lifetime. And kindly back up your second paragraph with facts.

        • Linus

          My second paragraph was a question, not a statement. And a valid question too.

          If Ukip doesn’t have the resources to check the background of its candidates, in the nightmare (but thankfully impossible) scenario of them forming a government, who would end up in power? Might not the particular candidate who threatened to put a bullet between the eyes of his Tory opponent have been named Home Secretary if he hadn’t blabbed? Someone who believes assassination is a valid political response in charge of the police? And what do his colleagues believe that they’re not telling you?

          Like most political movements born of single issue protest, Ukip is a rallying point for extremists, malcontents and sociopaths. Just like the Nazi Party was. They won’t be your next government. They may not even win any seats at all. So they’re not dangerous in themselves (apart from those individual Ukippers with murderous tendencies, of course). But they are dangerous for the UK because they will undermine the Conservative vote and leave your country vulnerable to a Labour / SNP victory and probable dismemberment. Vote Ukip and say goodbye to the UK. What will the party call itself then? Ewniip? Or will it just implode along with your nation?

          • Anton

            The UK is less than 100 years old and if the Scots want to leave then, as there are significant and enduring left/right differences between them and the English, it is probably better for both that they do. Then we can be friends again without being in bed – just as we would prefer with the continental countries over EU membership. These would be significant changes but no cause for alarm. Only supporters of the status quo press the panic button, whether tactically or because they have not thought it through.

            Your second paragraph (as at 1245 hours on May 6th while I write this) is: “At least one of its candidates is willing to commit murder to stop the son of an immigrant winning his seat for the Conservatives.” You then mentioned UKIP, to which you presumably refer. I wrote: “kindly back up your second paragraph with facts” and you replied: “My second paragraph was a question, not a statement.”

            Nonsense. Its sentence construction is that of a comment not a question, and it does not conclude with a question mark. Your English grammar is essentially perfect, so why are you not telling the truth?

          • Linus

            My mistake. I’m accessing this site on a smartphone today and the first paragraph of my comment had scrolled off the top of the screen, so I mistook another paragraph for the second.

            If you want proof of a Ukip candidate’s desire to murder his political opponent, I refer you to film footage of Mr Robert Blay, Ukip candidate for North East Hampshire, where he expresses his intention to “put a bullet between the eyes” of his Conservative rival for the seat. This has been reported in all UK newspapers. Is the footage faked? Is it a foul plot by the British press to discredit Ukip on the eve of the election?

          • Anton

            And excellent reason it is not to vote for Mr Blay. But not excellent reason not to vote for UKIP, who promptly suspended him.

          • Linus

            Hardly a week goes by without Ukip suspending a candidate for racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or homicidal tendencies…

            There are just too many whack jobs standing for Ukip for the party to be credible.

          • Anton

            You are entitled to your opinion.

          • Linus has made a number of valid points.

          • Anton

            Indeed; followed by doubtful conclusions.

      • Johnny Rottenborough

        @ Linus—When it comes to criminal activity, the Establishment parties leave UKIP standing. The rogues’ gallery is at Liars Buggers and Thieves and Labour25.

        • Linus

          Yes, MPs are a disreputable bunch, aren’t they? We have similar problems here in France with our députés and sénateurs. The problem isn’t so much that power corrupts, but rather that the kind of personality attracted by power is so easily corruptible.

          Still, there’s a line to be drawn between common garden corruption and immorality on the one hand, and political despotism and totalitarianism on the other.

          Many Conservative and Labour MPs have transgressed, but none of them believes in assassination as a political weapon (well, assassination of domestic political rivals at least, although how many objected to the mode the US chose for getting rid of Ossama Ben Laden?) Or at least if they do, they’re wise enough to keep their opinions to themselves.

          I suppose that’s the basic issue. Ukip candidates just do not come across as wise. They give the impression of making it up as they go along. Their political involvement is based on hatred, rejection and other negative emotions. Their image is petulant rather than profound.

          If your MP has three mistresses, a gay lover, a predeliction for goats and a gilded baroque palace for ducks floating in his duckpond, he can still be a wise and effective democratic representative. But if his solution to political disagreement is to put a bullet between his opponent’s eyes, the first thing he kills is democracy. This is the Ukip threat, although it has to be said it isn’t much of one. Still, every attack on democratic values needs to be exposed for what it really is. If we dismiss these people as harmless extremists, we give them a foothold from which respectability can be gained. That’s what’s happened here in France with the FN. Let’s hope the British look and learn from our mistake.

          • alternative_perspective

            I see your reasoning but tend not to agree with your point: “If your MP has three mistresses, a gay lover, a predeliction for goats and a gilded baroque palace for ducks floating in his duckpond, he can still be a wise and effective democratic representative.”
            That observation is typically French but in the UK we tend, or used to be of the opinion, that decision making is accomplished through the lens of one’s worldview. A world view in which such perversities are justified or somehow held in contradiction with one’s beliefs is not a worldview to be trusted.
            The character of an MP; their moral fortitude, commitment to the common good and wisdom are all necessary. To de-couple wisdom, morality and compassion is a dangerous pursuit. Without the former we are left with hopeless idealism; without the latter we drift into petty legalism and without the middle; emotionally driven pragmatism. Each holds the other in check and gives the whole a deeper, fuller understanding.
            Perhaps this is why coalitions are so important nowadays as so few individual politicians manage to embody the ideals of this holy trinity.

          • “If your MP has three mistresses, a gay lover, a predeliction for goats and a gilded baroque palace for ducks floating in his duckpond, he can still be a wise and effective democratic representative.”

            Goodness ! He’d be worn out with no time or energy to focus on the affairs of State.

      • He was a member of the Conservative Party before he defected to UKIP!!!

        • Linus

          Clearly he found that Ukip’s philosophy was more in line with his own. Slam the doors on all immigration, build a wall around the UK, boot out all the foreigners and then kill anyone you don’t agree with to prevent them taking any power from you.

  • magnolia

    The club of Rome, if you look at the inception of it, was always a deeply dodgy adventure, started off by dodgy political characters whose modus operandi was step by step, gradually heat the water up whilst keeping the lobster in the pan. No wonder that agenda 21 is so on the cards, anti-humane as it is. I have known delightful people who thought they could write the script towards loveliness from the inside of the organisation, but their efforts were largely hopeless. On the other hand my ancestors fought -with a degree of personal loss involved- against the EEC/EC from the beginning and I am really pleased that they were not hoodwinked by the Frankfurtian Marxists in at the inception. Vladimir Bukovsky and Gorbachev both warn against the “New European Soviet”. Having kicked out Soviet style government they wondered why Europe wished to embrace it. It is folly.

  • CliveM

    It is hard to feel any love or commitment to the EU. It is distant, meddling, expensive, arrogant, undemocratic and self serving. It is part of the general problem with the Wests disconnect from politics.

    And yet I do see the logic behind being part of something larger that can better protect our trading rights internationally. I do see advantages to being part of the worlds largest market.

    If there was an in/out referendum tomorrow I don’t know how I would vote. I couldn’t vote to stay in with any enthusiasm and voting to leave will come with serious costs.

    I think as a nation however we would vote to stay in and it would appear that the rise of UKIP may have helped this.

    • It does NOT protect our trading rights internationally at all, we no longer have any! We cannot trade freely with whomever we wish, the EU has taken away our powers and is controlling us with an iron rod. The richest countries in the club dictate the terms which are of course to their advantage. Britain has a very bad deal. The next step is to strip us of our sovereignty.
      And David Cameron is deluding himself if he thinks he can renegotiate anything meaningful at all for Britain.

  • len

    Those behind the concept of the EU never’ came clean’ about their intentions at its inception.Edward Heath and others took us into’ the common market’ quite plainly under a massive deception.
    We in Europe are under the illusion that we live in a’ liberal’ and ‘free society’ nothing could be further than the truth we have been lied to and manipulated for years.
    I am not one for conspiracy theories but it would appear that there is a ‘shadow government’ in Europe pulling the strings with no accountability to anyone.

  • Graham Wood

    “But the Bible also has much to say about the structures of power that govern the relationships between a country’s people and its central and local bodies of government…”
    I’m not so sure that it does! Firstly in considering the Bible’s teaching I think a distinction needs to be made between government – i.e. the ruling administration at any particular time within a nation, and the State as an institution. The latter is dealt with in passing by Paul in romans 13.
    Perhaps the most succinct summary of the relationship between government and citizen, or in the UK’s case subject, are the words of the Lord: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
    But is the Christian in any way obliged to obey what is a supra national body claiming authority as in the case of the European Union? I suggest not for a moment for many reasons:
    1. if for no other reason that the EU is not a “State” (although it is aiming to become one in the form of the United States of Europe).
    2. It has no democratic legitimacy – i.e. it is totally unaccountable to any member state national legislature, electorate, or indeed anything else as it is self appointed and self perpetuating with the arrogance of only assumed powers. It constantly refuses to be bound by national referenda within its member states.
    3. The Council of Europe, the ECB, and the Commission are all equally unaccountable, meeting in secret behind closed doors, with no published records of decisions taken. It is a classic revival of the older USSR in terms of arbitrary centralised control
    4. From a biblical view the EU is entirely hostile to all things Christian, is largely atheistic in ideology, and arrogate to itself powers that legitimately belong to the nation state, and thus fall outside the discussion of the role of the State in Romans 13 as being the God given authority for its role as a servant of the people.
    It also has a sinister record of persecuting its critics who have sought to expose the scale of corruption in its many financial institutions – and so as Clive M has well summarised is “arrogant, undemocratic and self serving”.
    Arguably therefore it is a biblical duty to work for its abolition and for the UK to depart from it post-haste.

  • Shadrach Fire

    EU Out. No question. If we vote to get out (should we get a chance), those who fear the loss of commercial markets fail to see the world as their oyster and Europe needs us as much as we make use of them. We should never sell our birthright for a bushel of Euros.
    It is as ever the moral and religious undertones that have the greatest effect on us and they are those that must be guarded against.

  • James Bolivar DiGriz

    “Dealing with terrorism, international crime and trade negotiations are
    all easier when we are part of a global community, not isolated to
    struggle with them on our own”
    Broadly speaking true but absolutely nothing to do with the EU. In fact the EU acts as an impediment in many if not most of these areas.

    On trade; one example of which I am fond of, is that in international agreements about cars, Norway (with no car manufacturing industry) is represented but Britain (with a substantial car manufacturing industry) is totally unrepresented.

    There is a representative from the EU who is allegedly acting on behalf of all 27 EU countries. However if that person comes from France or Germany one does not have to be too much of a cynic to think that not all EU countries will be treated the same.

    On terrorism & crime; the free movement of people in the EU (and particularly the Schengen agreement) makes it easier for such people to move around. Interpol, and bilateral police & security arangements, predate the EU.

    The EU has set up a semi-competitor (Europol) and my understanding is that the work of EU police forces is hampered by having to liase with both bodies. Also, EU efficiency is seen in that Interpol and Europol both employ c.800 people – one dealing with 190 countries and one with 27.

  • revkev

    Local people for local government issues. The Church works best at local community level. Politicians who tirelessly work for local issues don’t need to be affiliated to national parties. I’m voting for a hardworking activist who recently resigned from UKIP for my local councillor. Until we get a proportional representation voting system for our national parliamentary candidates we cannot possibly have a fairly elected government.

    • Dominic Stockford

      But PR would effectively wipe out any possibility of independent MP’s. So how to square that circle?

  • Inspector General

    The nation state may in time be doomed to be absorbed by a larger entity. It may be as inevitable as when Mercia or Wessex ceased to exist as nation states. The Inspector has absolutely no problem with that, should it happen, because by then, his sensibilities would not be around to be offended, and his dust will be aged dust.

    Anyway, let’s get back to today. Remembering back to the 1960s and 1970s, there were no marches of thousands demanding political union with Germany. Plenty of other marches from those years, but nothing remotely resembling that particular desire. Even when the trading agreement called the EEC came into being, no one suggested we be actually ruled from the continent.

    Step forward a few decades, and you can’t move for Judas rams of politicians trying to herd us to market. UKIP is the only party that does not possess any such treacherous beasts. In fact, one would say UKIP is the only clean political party which will do what it says on the tin. Anyone else impressed?

    • Graham Wood

      IG Before voting tomorrow please do have a look at Gerald Warner’s take on the election – says it all I think! (Posted on Breitbart under London window)
      http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/05/06/forget-tactical-voting-the-strategic-vote-is-ukip/http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/05/06/forget-tactical-voting-the-strategic-vote-is-ukip

      • Inspector General

        Hmmm. Nothing will stop this man voting UKIP, GW.

      • “For Scottish voters the preservation of the Union is the sole issue. When a patriotic British party eventually comes to power, there must still be a Britain for it to restore to greatness.

        There is a case in Scotland for supporting whichever candidate has the best prospect of defeating Sturgeon’s Maoists.

        Many London-based media are behaving as if the SNP is some kind of new force, like UKIP. That is nonsense: it is another legacy party, founded in the 1930s when many of its leading lights were notorious for their Nazi sympathies. That menace must be halted. If it invades Westminster the legacy Quislings will remorselessly betray England to gain its parliamentary support.”

        Hmmm ….

        • Inspector General

          Let it happen, Jack. See the Scottish National Socialists for what they are, and be appalled…

          • Jack knows what the SNP are like, Inspector. Tomorrow his choice will be Conservative.

          • Shadrach Fire

            Your not going to help that comic Scot Cameron the gay lover back in are you?

          • The leader of the Conservative Party is a lesbian. What’s become of the world? And as for the “wee lassie”, who knows?

            According to Lord Sack’s archaeologists believe the very first act of copulation was between two fish in Scotland 385 million years ago. Jack kids you not. How they know this is a mystery. Looks like we’re now rolling evolution backwards!