A recent poll showed fewer than one in five of us trust politicians to tell the truth. Is it any surprise that so many people are disengaged from politics? Even with the frenzy surrounding the Eastleigh by-election taking place on Thursday, following the resignation of Chris Huhne, and the hordes of senior figures from every party descending on the small town, turnout is unlikely to break 50 per cent.
Last week I chose to attend a Driver Awareness Training course. And when I say chose, I mean I opted not to have points on my license, and nor did I have someone who was willing to break the law and take them for me.
Huhne’s initial actions were not part of a large-scale crime wave, or even particularly rare, there were 40 doing their penance for similar crimes in the same session, and similar courses take place all across the country most days. It was the cover-up that ended Huhne’s political career.
His downfall had everything a scriptwriter could dream of; politicians covering their tracks, affairs and betrayal, and now an election which could send the coalition into a tailspin of blue on yellow aggression, bringing the government grinding to a halt.
As with most by-elections, particularly a competitive one, the mainstream parties are joined by a veritable feast of extras. UKIP hope to run Labour close for third place; there are trade union candidates, National Health Action, the Peace party, Elvis Loves Pets, Wessex Regionalists, a Christian Party candidate, and an independent standing for real marriage. Oh, I almost forgot the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet party. Elections like this get the media excited, but sometimes it’s hard to work out whether the Monster Raving Loony William Hill party are more deserving of your vote than any of the others.
threads caught up with Christians involved in the campaign for the Conservative and Labour candidates vying for the seat. Andy Milligan, a Conservative Party activist put the case for Maria Hutchings: “As a Christian I look for the party or the candidate who, I think, comes as close as possible on the whole to faithfully representing what I think are important issues to a Christian.
“Conservatives stand up for the family, for dignity of individuals by not dumping them in the scrapheap of the benefits system, but instead by encouraging people back into work through policies like the Work Programme and Universal Credit.”
Unsurprisingly, such a position was disputed by Darren Paffey, a Labour councillor in nearby Southampton. He suggested: “Labour values chime with many people that we’ve met on the doorsteps in Eastleigh, including Christians who value community, fairness, and equality, and who believe it’s the responsibility of church, government and wider society to ensure that the vulnerable aren’t dealt an even harsher blow by the austerity policies of the Coalition.”
Why then do some people care so much about politics? When this was put to Darren he said: “Successful politics depends on having a broad range of people as politicians, and I had the motivation to be one of those. Another was the firm conviction that politics is predominantly a force for good, and a way of achieving solutions to many of society’s problems, and I wanted to be in the thick of that, rather than shouting my opinions from the sidelines.”
For Andy he was “personally passionate about seeing justice in our society. Particularly justice for the vulnerable and sidelined.” He went on to say: “God calls us to stand up for the oppressed and vulnerable, and for me politics is a very clear and effective way in which we as Christians can do this.”
Someone recently asked me what the point in politics was, because nothing that they could do would lead to any change. In a country with over 60 million people, the actions of one person – no matter how vociferous – is unlikely to lead to a change. But I think that’s a good thing because decisions that affect us all, are decided in a way that takes account of how we think differently and have different priorities. It means democracy is at work
The problem with politics is that we want to be able to able to achieve something on our own, but we also want our views being taken into account when others are making decisions. Democracy is not always great, and our system doesn’t always get it right, but it does mean that one person, whether that’s the Prime Minister or you or me, can’t on their own decide what the country wants. That’s why democracy always wins, and why we should care about politics.
A full list of all candidates standing in the Eastleigh by-election is available here.