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How the Church wants you to vote

For the first time, the Church of England has produced a letter saying how we – and our politicians – should approach the general election.

In an unprecedented move, the Church of England has published a letter intended to guide the population in how to approach the upcoming general election.

Although the House of Bishops, which published the letter, insists it’s not a “shopping list of policies we would like to see”, it is pretty clear which policies the Church is against. And it reads more like a set of (rather sensible) instructions for our politicians than advice to voters.

Here’s what the Church tells us in the 56-page document, Who is my neighbour?:

 

We don’t support one party

In a not-so-turbulent caveat, the bishops are keen to point out that this letter is not party political: “If anyone claims that this letter is “really” saying “Vote for this party or that party”, they have misunderstood it.”

We do do God

A little dig at Alastair Campbell here, refuting those “people, including some in the positions of influence in the media, politics and elsewhere, [who] claim that religion and politics cannot mix.”

“Without a grasp of the power and meaning of religion, it is impossible to understand the dynamics of global politics today . . . The claim that religion and political life must be kept separate is, in any case, frequently disingenuous – most politicians and pundits are happy enough for the churches to speak on political issues so long as the church agrees with their particular line.”

Don’t vote Isis

A strangely indirect reference to religious extremism:

“It is a mistake to imagine that all manifestations of religion are essentially similar or always benign . . . The answer to ‘furious religion’ (that is, the religious impulse turned in on itself or used to justify oppression and conflict) is not to marginalise religion in general or see religious faith as some kind of problem.”

A message for hardsinning people (and politicians)

“To speak of human sin is not the same as apportioning blame and being judgemental. All are sinners; all fall short.”

This forgiveness even extends to politicians themselves:

“We should neither hold politicians to a higher set of moral standards than we expect from ourselves, nor allow them off the hook by treating political life as if it were outside the demands of morality . . . with few exceptions, politicians are not driven merely by cynicism or self-interest. The low esteem in which politicians are held today has many roots. But simply blaming the individuals concerned is not an adequate response.”

At-One-ment Nation

Only slightly less catchy than Labour’s similar slogan:

“At-one-ment is as necessary a goal for public life as it is for the personal dimension.”

More idealism please

None of parties offer an attractive vision of the future: “ . . . we are subjected to sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best. There is no idealism in this prospectus”.

End the Dutch auction

Nothing to do with Europe – this is just a damning reference to political parties’ narrow core vote strategy:

“ . . . the idea that politics is about satisfying the wants of distinct groups so as to win their votes has prevented our politics from rising above a kind of Dutch auction”.

Quit buying us off with “retail politics”

An indictment of treating politics as “an extension of consumerism”:

“The time has surely come to move beyond mere “retail politics”, where parties tailor their policies to the groups whose votes they need, regardless of the good of the majority”.

Tories, stop harking back to Thatcher

“Thatcher’s market revolution emphasised individualism, consumerism and the importance of the corporate sector to the extent that, far from returning to Victorian notions of social responsibility, the paradigm for all relationships became competitive individualism, consumption and the commercial contract, fragmenting social solidarity at many levels.”

Labour, stop harking back to Attlee

“We are now as distant in time from Margaret Thatcher’s first government as hers was from Attlee’s. Both administrations changed the way people looked at society, politics, the role of government and the nature of human relationships. But today, neither vision addresses our condition.”

Beveridge is OK though

“Beveridge understood that if the state is given too much power to shape society it will stifle the very voluntarism that prevents the state from being hopelessly overburdened by human need.”

Crack down on social Darwinism

Our “society of strangers” (one of the Church’s many excellent soundbites) relies too much on competition, rather than cooperation, between people.

“Consumption, rather than production, has come to define us . . . So has an excessive emphasis on competition regarded as a sort of social Darwinism.”

Don’t just rehouse people in random places

Social policies should not just assume people are “happily mobile and footloose”.

“ . . . attempts to address the shortage of suitable housing will create new problems if they neglect people’s attachment to particular places and the social networks they create there.”

Bureaucracy is not messy enough

Politicians in government, and those seeking office, want everything to be too “neat”, and get stuck in bureaucracies:

“ . . . human life and creativity are inherently messy and rebel against the uniformity that accompanies systemic constraints and universal solutions.”

Devolve divinely

Don’t decentralise every little bit of power, but do try and make policy relate to people’s lives and communities:

“Unless a political vision emerges which reaffirms the bonds which tie us together as a nation, as localities, as communities and as neighbours, we shall be left with the spectacle of politicians claiming more and more powers and yet achieving less and less that is worthwhile.”

We’re not all young and attractive

Stop measuring people up against the perfect individual:

“When individuality is thought to stem from autonomy and freedom of choice, a particular image of the ideal individual – young, free, attractive, and materially comfortable – becomes the archetype against which everyone is measured and most are found wanting.”

The poor are treated as “unwanted”

“There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed.”

Don’t call people scroungers

“ . . . when those who rely on social security payments are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent, and ought to be self-sufficient, it deters others from offering the informal, neighbourly support which could ease some of the burden of welfare on the state.”

We’re not under threat from Europe

The volatile and war-torn parts of the world, not our European neighbours, affect “the stability of all nations”:

“If there is a threat to the values and institutions of our nation, it does not come today from our closest neighbours in Europe.”

Rethink Trident

“The presence of such destructive capacity pulls against any international sense of shared community.”

Politicians won’t listen to voters on this because they’re fixated with the “talismanic power of nuclear weaponry”.

Keep ringfencing the foreign aid budget

“The government is to be commended for committing 0.7% of GDP to overseas aid when budgets have been so hard pressed. For any party to abandon or reduce this commitment would be globally irresponsible”.

Resurrect the big society

Praise for the “thoughtful Conservatives” who came up with the now-forgotten initiative:

 “. . . the ideals that the big society stood for should not be consigned to the political dustbin – they could still be the foundation for the new approach to politics, economics and community which we seek”.

End the “us and them” immigration narrative

“The way we talk about migration, with ethnically identifiable communities being treated as “the problem” has, deliberately or inadvertently, created an ugly undercurrent of racism in every debate about immigration.”

Reducing the deficit should not “grind the faces of the poor”

An obsession with indebtedness can be harmful:

 “. . . a concern to reduce indebtedness need not necessitate grinding the faces of the poor”.

The government has not protected the poor from recession

“Those whose margin of material security was always narrow have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession.”

And “burgeoning” in-work poverty has caused the Church to support the Living Wage.

Candidates, stop being so “on-message”

It’s time to cut beneath “the jargon and ‘on-message’ glibness” that has come to characterise political language:

“Candidates who free themselves from clichés and party formulae may be showing the first signs of that human sympathy which would enable them to be real representatives of their constituents rather than simply needing our votes to gain power.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Inside the progressive alliance that beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

Frantic phone calls, hundreds of volunteers, and Labour MPs constrained by their party. 

Politics for a progressive has been gloomy for a long time. On Thursday, in Richmond Park of all places, there was a ray of light. Progressive parties (at least some of them) and ordinary voters combined to beat Ukip, the Tories and their "hard Brexit, soft racist" candidate.

It didn’t happen by accident. Let's be clear, the Liberal Democrats do by-elections really well. Their activists flood in, and good luck to them. But Richmond Park was too big a mountain for even their focused efforts. No, the narrow win was also down to the fast growing idea of a progressive alliance. 

The progressive alliance is both a defensive and offensive move. It recognises the tactical weakness of progressives under first past the post – a system the Tories and their press know how to game. With progressive forces spilt between Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Women’s Equality Party and more – there is no choice but to co-operate, bring in proportional representation and then a whole new political world begins.

This move opens up the wider strategy – to end the domination of the City, and right-wing newspapers like the Mail, so Britain can have a real debate and make real choices about what sort of economy and society it wants. A pipedream? Well, maybe. But last night the fuse was lit in Richmond Park. The progressive alliance can work.

Months before the by-election, the pressure group for a progressive alliance that I chair, Compass, the Greens, and some Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs and activists, began considering this. The alternative after Brexit was staring into the void.

Then the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith stepped down over Heathrow. To be fair, he had pledged to do this, and we should have been better prepared. In the event, urgent behind-the-scenes calls were made between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Compass acted as the safe house. The Greens, wonderfully, clung onto democracy – the local party had to decide. And they decided to stand up for a new politics. Andree Frieze would have been the Green candidate, and enjoyed her moment in the autumn sun. She and her party turned it down for a greater good. So did the Women’s Equality Party.

Meanwhile, what about Labour? Last time, they came a distant third. Again the phones were hit and meetings held. There was growing support not to stand. But what would they get back from the Liberal Democrats, and what did the rules say about not standing? It was getting close to the wire. I spent an hour after midnight, in the freezing cold of Aberdeen, on the phone to a sympathetic Labour MP trying to work out what the party rule book said before the selection meeting.

At the meeting, I am told, a move was made from the floor not to select. The London regional official ruled it out of order and said a candidate would be imposed if they didn’t select. Some members walked out at this point. Where was the new kinder, gentler politics? Where was membership democracy? Fast forward to last night, and the Labour candidate got less votes than the party has members.

The idea of a progressive alliance in Richmond was then cemented in a draughty church hall on the first Tuesday of the campaign – the Unitarian Church of course. Within 48 hours notice, 200 local activist of all parties and none had come together to hear the case for a progressive alliance. Both the Greens and Compass produced literature to make the case for voting for the best-placed progressive candidate. The Liberal Democrats wove their by-election magic. And together we won.

It’s a small victory – but it shows what is possible. Labour is going to have to think very hard whether it wants to stay outside of this, when so many MPs and members see it as common sense. The lurch to the right has to be stopped – a progressive alliance, in which Labour is the biggest tent in the campsite, is the only hope.

In the New Year, the Progressive Alliance will be officially launched with a steering committee, website and activists tool-kit. There will also be a trained by-election hit squad, manifestos of ideas and alliances build locally and across civil society.

There are lots of problems that lie ahead - Labour tribalism, the 52 per cent versus the 48 per cent, Scottish independence and the rest. But there were lots of problems in Richmond Park, and we overcame them. And you know, working together felt good – it felt like the future. The Tories, Ukip and Arron Banks want a different future – a regressive alliance. We have to do better than them. On Thursday, we showed we could.

Could the progressive alliance be the start of the new politics we have all hoped for?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the progressive alliance.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.