For many years Bill Clinton’s dictum ‘it’s the economy stupid’ was superseded in local politics by ‘it’s the constitution stupid’. The constitutional question in large part determined which party a voter chose. Thankfully that issue seems to have been settled, at least for the time being, and the economy is now assuming centre stage. While Labour and Conservative argue over whether British society is broken there is general agreement that the economy is broken. Signs are that it may be precariously balanced on the verge of recovery but we are warned there will be hard times ahead.
If local politics are focused once again on the economy what principles should guide us in our voting? What should we require of our politicians?
Competence would be a good start. It does not guarantee good government but incompetence guarantees a bad one. However in economic matters how do we know who is competent? A cohort of eminent economists confidently advocate that one course of action will lead to recovery. The following day an equally eminent cohort contradict them warning of the dire consequences of such action. Even Nobel Laureates disagree. Who are we to believe?
Psalm 82 sheds a different perspective on the economy. God challenges earthly rulers to ‘defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’ Economic justice must be an integral part of economic recovery. The shocking inequalities in remuneration that existed prior to the downturn should not be tolerated in the future economy. By almost all measures of individual and community wellbeing more equal societies fare better. A society that seeks to protect the weak, provide for the poor, equip and empower the disadvantaged and affirm and encourage the marginalised will be a stronger, healthier and more peaceful society.
Charles Colson has said ‘If God favours any special interest group it is the poor, the hungry, the unborn, the handicapped, the prisoner- those with the least access to political power.’ On their behalf we should ask our aspiring politicians how they view the problem of deprivation and inequality. What priority do they give it? What are their plans for tackling it? What do they propose to do about the fact that 20% of our young people do not have the literacy and numeracy skills necessary for employment? These issues of social justice are moral issues just as much as abortion and euthanasia.
Electing politicians who, irrespective of their party, have a commitment to economic and social justice might just create a culture in which all citizens have opportunity to prosper and where people matter more than maximising profits. Casting our votes in the interests of the most disadvantaged rather than out of self interest becomes an act of love. Voting for a candidate who shows preference for the poor gives us opportunity to adopt another dictum, one from a more authoritative source; ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’.
John Kyle is a GP practicing in East Belfast. In 2007 he succeeded the late David Ervine on Belfast City Council representing Pottinger Ward for the Progressive Unionist Party.
Opinions expressed by p.s. contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Contemporary Christianity. Contributors are invited to freely express their opinions, whatever the issue, in order to encourage robust and respectful discussion.